As part of the 2019 Dear Poet project, students around the country and the world wrote letters to Alberto Ríos in response to a video of him reading his poem “A House Called Tomorrow” aloud. Alberto Ríos wrote letters back to thirteen of these students; their letters and his replies are included below.
Alberto Ríos also wrote the following response to all of the participants of this year's Dear Poet project.
We are living in unsettling times right now. Everything is loud. And loud is a bully—it’s always trying to tell you what to do, what to think, what to like.
It may be hard to contemplate writing a poem about a daffodil as William Wordsworth did, or a cactus wren, or the smell of a washing machine washing, even though we might really want to—beauty is always calling out to us, through all the senses. Trouble is loud and calls for our attention, too—as it should. If someone falls, we of course go over and try to help.
So, the quiet daffodil or world hunger? Great poems have been about everything—trouble, daffodils, indeed any imaginable idea.
To this end, some poems are needed into being, some are remembered into being, some are invented into being.
Trouble, especially when exemplified as injustice, is counter to the human soul. It has to be addressed, of course. That’s who we are as human beings. We need to stand up for what we believe in. But there is so much more. And you as a poet are required to write only whatever you require of yourself—it does not originate with someone or something else telling you what to do. It comes with more magic attached, which you have to learn to trust. You must write what you must write.
If you liked my poem, if one poem intrigues you, it will be good news to know that there are many, many more waiting for you. Not all of them will suit you, but some will, and that will make all the difference.
There’s a pirate’s treasure in literature, but it’s up to you to dig it up. So curiously, the maps are everywhere. Go to a library. Open a book, any book. Start plundering.