Syosset HS student from Oyster Bay Cove discusses her poetry
By Jennifer Corr
Catalogue of Ripening, written by Syosset High School senior Sabrina Guo, a resident of Oyster Bay Cove, is more than just a poetry book, it’s a journey.
This book was published in October, 2022 by the Children’s Art Foundation-Stone Soup Inc., a nonprofit literary magazine 100 percent written and illustrated by children ages 8 to 13. Guo has submitted her own work to this magazine and continues to work with them. “I have been writing since I was 10,” Guo said. “Poetry actually started as song lyrics, and then it transformed into poetry and the themes of everything I write also matured.”
“At first, it was just a name: Sabrina Guo,” said William Rubel, the co-founder and executive director of the Children’s Art Foundation-Stone Soup, in the foreword he wrote for the book. “A student whose work was repeatedly published in Stone Soup. In what was at the time our roughly forty-five years of publishing, there were other authors who were published multiple times. However, it soon became evident that Sabrina was besting our records. Besides repeated acceptances to the magazine, she was frequently sweeping our contests, reviewing books for our blog, and energetically corresponding with all of us via email.”
Guo, through multiple styles of poetry, tells tales of childhood curiosity and adventure while living with the reality that it’s a cruel and unfair world. Her poetry also provides a window into her Chinese heritage.
“The whole point of this book, as the Catalogue of Ripening, is to show my maturity and growth as an activist and as a writer,” Guo said. “The order of these poems are really thoughtfully placed to show my maturity… The stories that inspired them, a lot of them were moments I had written down first in my journal because I knew they were definitely life defining moments I knew I wanted to memorialize through poetry. These moments, these stories were all inspired by moments that I realized that this is something unique about my culture, my heritage and just little moments in the house, moments that are unique to the neighborhood and moments that are unique to the relationships in my life.”
But then there’s also references to gun violence in schools, with a poem dedicated to the victims of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. She later illustrates the experience of going through a lockdown drill.
“We all know that within the recent years, there have been people who abused the rights provided in the Second Amendment,” Guo said. “We have to, as the youth, do our part to uplift each others’ voices and one way I do this, besides through activism, is poetry, and the two really intertwine.”
She also talks about climate change, with a reference to the deadly yield of crops caused by drought at Poyang Lake. In that poem, Guo says she wants a world where fossil fuel isn’t burned and ocean lungs aren’t rotted, and that one day her children could swim in clear waters.
Guo brings to light the experiences of health care workers and patients during the pandemic; discussing the fear patients feel when getting a COVID-19 test, the re-using of personal protective equipment (PPE) because there is a lack of it and the overall grief, fear and death felt in hospitals. In March of 2020, Guo had started a non-profit called Long Island Laboring Against COVID-19 (LILAC) that raised thousands of dollars in PPE for local hospitals and health care facilities. Guo even donated college money towards the cause.
“These two poems I tried to use a lot of imagery that a lot of people would relate to during this pandemic,” Guo said. “Imagery that really shows this grief and this loss and this desperation and this fear and this gratitude for family and community that’s been with you through these times.”
She dedicates a poem to her grandmother. And she later dedicates a poem to a passed-on friend named Delilah, who was abused at home.
“I hope this collection inspired by the diary Delilah actually left me, I hope that it can shed light on the experiences she endured and how much pain, parental abuse and neglect can cause,” Guo said, adding that a note in the diary left by Delilah asks Guo to write about her story. “Through these poems I really seek to honor her and her memory through the stories she has left me to make her voice finally be heard.”
Guo also dedicates a poem to Marie Colvin, a war reporter from Oyster Bay who was killed covering the war in Syria. Guo has done much work to honor her legacy, including working with local officials to have a street renamed in her honor.
Rubel reflected in his foreword that Guo has always had the heart for activism, and that the team at Stone Soup found that out in the summer of 2018.
“The previous winter, my colleagues and I had decided that we would like to begin offering a space in Stone Soup for work by refugee youth whose lives had been upended by uncontrollable violence,” Rubel said. “But with limited resources, we needed volunteers with vision to help us out. So, we sent an appeal through our weekly newsletter.
A few months later, I got an email from twelve-year-old Sabrina. In the intervening months, Sabrina had been conducting research on photographers and artists working in refugee camps. She had found a film director and storytelling instructor working in a Syrian refugee camp–Laura Doggett, founder of the Another Kind of Girl Collective–and reached out to see if she could interview her via Skype and publish it on the Stone Soup Blog. Inspired by Laura’s efforts, and in consultation with Sabrina, we were finally able to launch the Stone Soup Refugee Project. It now has its own web portal, and we have ongoing programs in refugee camps in multiple countries. Sabrina provided the spark we needed.”
In the foreword, Rubel listed off Guo’s contributions to the local and international community, including her work with LILAC, as well as the non-profit she founded Girl Pride International, which works to empower marginalized female voices and lives through pen-pal programs, scholarships, virtual reading groups, mentoring and tutorship and creative contests.
“I bring up all of this not only to highlight the fact that Sabrina is an extraordinary young woman, but because her identity as a young social activist is essential to understanding her collection of poetry,” Rubel said.
To buy Catalogue of Ripening, which hit #1 New Release in Poetry for Teens & Young Adults on Amazon, visit Barnesandnoble.com or Amazon.com and type in the book title in the search bar.
About Sabrina Guo:
Guo is a Regeneron Science Talent Search (STS) Scholar and a writer-activist who represented the USA to speak out against climate injustice and performed her poetry at the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). She’s a recipient of the 2022 President’s Lifetime Achievement Award from President Biden, a candidate for the 2023 US Presidential Scholars Program, and winner of the Civic Expression Award and nine national medals from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. Her writing, music, activism, and humanitarian work have been commended by the White House, Michelle Obama, Senator Charles Schumer, and awarded the State Winner of the NYS PTA Youth Humanitarian Award and the NYS Senate Commendation Award. She was also a 2022 Princeton Prize in Race Relations honoree and named the winner of the 2022 Long Island Business News 30 Under 30 Next GEN Award.