January 10, 2013

Mainer chosen as inaugural poet

Richard Blanco will write an original poem to recite at President Obama's swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 21. His hometown of Bethel is abuzz.

By Tom Bell tbell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Richard Blanco has said he relates to Obama's writings about his search for his own multicultural family history and personal identity.

Photo by Nico Tucci

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Interview with Richard Blanco on NPR

Excerpt of "Looking For the Gulf Motel," by Richard Blanco

There should be nothing here I don't remember . . .

My mother should still be in the kitchenette
of The Gulf Motel, her daisy sandals from Kmart
squeaking across the linoleum, still gorgeous
in her teal swimsuit and amber earrings
stirring a pot of arroz-con-pollo, adding sprinkles
of onion powder and dollops of tomato sauce.
My father should still be in a terrycloth jacket
smoking, clinking a glass of amber whiskey
in the sunset at the Gulf Motel, watching us
dive into the pool, two boys he'll never see
grow into men who will be proud of him.

“The desire to give children the best opportunity and hope is reflected in that poem,” Kinghorn said.
Blanco’s ascent to national attention will add to Maine’s rich poetry heritage, which includes other well-known poets such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Edna St. Vincent Millay, said Julie Richard, executive director of the Maine Arts Commission.

“We are enormously excited about the potential impact of this for the arts and the people of Maine,” she said.

As a writer, Blanco explores the intersection of his cultural identities as a Cuban-American gay man, according to a statement from the inaugural committee. His work examines the American experience of cultural negotiation through the lens of family and love, particularly his mother’s life shaped by exile, his relationship with his father, and the passing of a generation of relatives.

While working as a civil engineer, he taught at various universities throughout the country, including American and Georgetown universities.

Blanco’s career as an English-language Latino poet gained momentum when his first collection, “City of a Hundred Fires,” won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize from the University of Pittsburgh. His second book of poetry, “Directions to The Beach of the Dead,” won the PEA American Center Beyond Margins Award.

When Blanco moved with his partner to Bethel, he began focusing exclusively on his writing, Kinghorn said. He said Blanco lives in an inspiring setting for a writer, in a rural part of Bethel with beautiful mountain views.

Shortly before moving to Bethel, Blanco volunteered to serve on the Planning Board and also the Ordinance Review Committee.

Blanco is thoughtful, and his experience as a civil engineer has been valuable, said Andrew Glasfeld, the board’s outgoing chairman.

Most recently, Blanco has been helping rewrite the town’s sign ordinance, said Town Manager Jim Doar.

He said that almost everyone in Bethel will be watching the inaugural ceremony to hear Blanco recite his poem.

“We are all excited for him and know he will do well,” Doar said. “He will be doing the town of Bethel proud.”

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: tbell@pressherald.com


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