As part of the 2020 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 “Nani” aloud. Alberto Ríos wrote letters back to eleven of these students; their letters and his replies are included below.
Alberto Ríos also wrote a response to all of the participants of this year's Dear Poet project.
Thank you all for participating in the Dear Poet project. Your questions and observations have been smart and eloquent. Everyone who took the time to respond to a poem participated in a fantastic conversation that adds meaningfully to the arts for all of us.
As poets, we love hearing what happens to our poems in the world. And the world today!
Wild days, I know. We all know. They are exhausting us all and scaring us too much, but we're moving forward—sometimes sadly, sometimes hopeful, sometimes patient, sometimes not. It's hard to know how to move. But through this all, there is still some magic left to be found.
I often ask people who the most powerful wizard in the Harry Potter universe is. We're all tempted to say Dumbledore, or Lord Voldemort, or Harry himself. But, in stepping back from this wonderfully imaginative world, we know those answers to be patently untrue. The most powerful wizard in all of this is the author of the books, J.K. Rowling.
The author is everything. Dracula is not powerful, ultimately; Bram Stoker is. Mr. Hyde is made powerful by Robert Louis Stevenson. Harry and the other wizards all cast spells with their magic wands, but the real magic wand is the pencil that belongs to J.K. Rowling.
For decades, everywhere I go I have said to young writers "every pencil is filled with a book." As it turns out, it's absolutely true. Sometimes what sounds like a metaphor, isn't. A regular #2 yellow pencil actually has enough lead to write about 45,000 words—a small novel. Every pencil is indeed filled with a book. Alternatively, a pencil could instead draw a line 35 miles long—if you wanted to. Whatever you choose, that small device is, at its heart, a magic wand, and we are the wizards in its debt.
J.K. Rowling's magic wand is her pencil, as potentially it is for each of us. There are 1,084,170 words in the entire Harry Potter series—that constitutes only a little more than the use of 24 pencils. The math is fanciful, perhaps, and she may have used a computer eventually, but the underlying fact of this metaphor remains clear.
This detail does not diminish the accomplishment, but rather amplifies the real wizardry implicit in it. And potentially, implicit in you.
Go on, go out—if not into the world yet, then onto the page. Write your words, read great books, think excellent thoughts. Nothing today can stop you.