As part of the 2021 Dear Poet project, students around the country and the world wrote letters to Rodney Gomez in response to a video of him reading his poem “Ship of Theseus” aloud. Rodney Gomez wrote letters back to four of these students; their letters and his replies are included below.
Rodney Gomez also wrote a response to all of the participants of this year's Dear Poet project.
I am so grateful for these letters. I am so grateful for these insights and for what they’ve taught me about my poem that I hadn’t considered. You have so many demands on your precious time and I’m happy that you found something worthwhile in this work. I am encouraged to keep writing with readers like you in mind.
Some of you wrote about how you were inspired by the fact that philosophy and poetry, two of the liberal arts, still had some relevance today. Our world is so enraptured by technology and business that we forget how useful things like a poem can be. Useful not in the same sense an app is useful, but poems can help us discover what is important in the world. I recall that old line from William Carlos Williams, that people “die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found” in poetry. I didn’t write “Ship of Theseus” with any pretense about its profundity, and I’m astonished that it generated so much beautiful discovery.
Many of you are busy confronting the demands of growing up and looking back at your childhood with a nostalgia that makes Proust seem like a shallow hack. You think maybe there’s something not quite right about your now. I wish I could lift the weight off your collective shoulders and give you a moment to breathe and reflect. One of the benefits of poetry is that it gives you precisely that kind of room. I want to urge you to find the nostalgia in the present, to enjoy and revel in the life you are now experiencing. Even as you wonder about who you now are, the future version of you will look back and find so much of value.
The task of confronting change is also paramount in many of your letters. As we live through a pandemic, many of you are grappling what you want to do with your lives. Daily living has changed so much. Your perspectives have evolved. The priorities you or your parents once assigned to certain things have shifted. When I was younger I wanted to be some kind of biologist. I found something new that continues to generate wonder for me. I hope that as you continue to grow up, attend college, travel, and do many interesting things you won’t lose the ability to be as introspective as you’ve shown in these letters. I hope you continue to read poetry and find value in it.