Rodney Gomez is the author of four books, most recently Arsenal With Praise Song, recipient of the Helen C. Smith Memorial Award for Best Book of Poetry from the Texas Institute of Letters. He has been awarded fellowships from the Yale Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration, as well as the de Groot Foundation. A member of the Macondo Writers Workshop, Gomez was the 2020-2021 poet laureate of McAllen, Texas. Gomez, who will be curating September’s poetry selections, chatted with us in the green room where he shared the surprising joy of fatherhood, the best place for inspiration, and how the pandemic reshaped his view on reading and writing poetry.
What poem or which poet do you find yourself returning to?
I don't have a favorite poet or someone who influences me to the extent that I’m constantly reading them. I used to have poets like that who were from a certain tradition like Wallace Stevens and T.S. Eliot. As I grew older, I learned about my own traditions. I like to be eclectic. I do focus almost exclusively on poets of color. A lot of these voices we haven't heard for years and we're catching up in a lot of ways. I decided that all of 2020 I would read just fiction that was written by women and fiction that was written by people of color. I think that’s my operating principle also for poetry.
How has the pandemic affected how you think about or write poetry?
I'm taking my time with it. I used to write very quickly and worry about the construction of the page. I was very focused on crafting these fine poems. Now, I'm more free-flowing and more relaxed in what I'm working on. I think I’m seeing poetry more as a tool or a vehicle for wisdom. Now, I want to get a sense of my place in the world. I want to hear what people have to say about their own experiences. I've become much more interested in the way that poets talk about their histories of trauma and historical conditions. The pandemic has been so profound in a lot of different ways, not only how it affected us health-wise, but the racial disparities and the economic impacts that it's had. It's made me think about a lot bigger things than whether a poem looks pretty. So, I’m thinking about how a poem can be something profound and affect the way people live their lives. That sounds quaint to some people, and they don't think it's possible, but I'm finding that it is possible.
Where’s a place that inspires you?
I would have to say anywhere my daughter is. She’s going to be three in September. I just love being with her, so any place she's at: the park, pool, outdoors, wherever.
Do you have a favorite household chore?
I love washing the dishes, typically at night after my daughter and my spouse have gone to sleep. It helps me relax and just take stock of a day. Sometimes I’ll put my air pods on and listen to music while I’m washing. It's just a cool way to relax and get rid of the anxiety.
What superpower would you most like to have?
I have very poor memory. I have a horrible time remembering people’s faces or sequences of events or, like, when people say they see faces on the moon and Mars? I can’t do that. So, if this is a superpower, I’d like to have a really good memory.
What surprises you most about your life right now?
Probably fatherhood. I'm an older dad in my mid-40s and I was not expecting to have kids. I mentioned my daughter. I have another baby on the way due early next year. I didn't expect to be a father at all. It just happened and luckily, we've been blessed to be parents. It’s surprising and also so joyous and happy.
It’s a long holiday weekend. What are your plans?
I’m actually on vacation this week from work. I was planning on doing nothing but my family and I are probably going to go to the beach and the zoo. Other than those two things, I plan on doing absolutely nothing. I'm usually writing something even when I don't want to write something, so, probably a holiday weekend involves me planning on doing nothing but ending up writing stuff.
What’s your comfort food?
Probably anything having to do with sopa, like a hearty soup. My mom used to make fideo, which is like vermicelli with chicken and Mexican seasonings. So, my comfort food is anything that's hot and soupy that reminds me of her cooking.
You’re walking down the street and come across something delightful. What or who is it?
An animal. I love all kinds of animals so probably if I see a dog or cat and, if they’re dressed up in cute little outfits, even better. Or a squirrel—I love squirrels.
As the 2020-2021 Poet Laureate of McAllen, Texas, you put together an anthology of Rio Grande Valley youth poetry. What was the most interesting part of that process?
I was selected before the pandemic hit and the plan all along was to do this anthology about them and about the experiences of living along the border. But that process sort of changed into an anthology about the pandemic. It was so interesting and exciting to see both children and young adults talk about how it was affecting their lives. I think it became a record of their emotions, thoughts, and feelings—reflections on this thing that was happening in their lives. It became really important to me to have this record that we could put together and share and they could look at it.