January 29, 2013

Maine poet, inaugural star, to read in Portland

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

For Richard Blanco, life has been one big turn after another since he read his poem "One Today" last week at President Obama's second inauguration.

click image to enlarge

President Barack Obama, left, shakes hands with poet Richard Blanco during the ceremonial swearing-in at the U.S. Capitol during the 57th Presidential Inauguration in Washington on Jan. 21, 2013.


"My everyday has changed completely. I'm taking care of a lot of things, and also trying to do some writing and setting up readings all the way into 2014," he said. "A poet is not used to that kind of attention. It's mind-boggling."

Blanco, who lives in Bethel, will read in a free public event Feb. 26 at the Merrill Auditorium in Portland. He accepted an invitation to read in Maine's largest city from Creative Portland Corp.

Blanco will read the poem that he wrote for the inaugural, as well as other works.

"I'll do my usual repertoire of poems, and the inaugural poem of course. I want to let people know where I come from and where my work comes from," he said in a phone interview Tuesday. "It seemed like a great way to connect with my home state. I only moved here three or four years ago, and I am excited about the opportunity. And Merrill is a great space. It's a great honor."

Until the inauguration, Blanco was a little-known poet. "One Today," a nine-stanza poem, elevated him to international stature. The poem speaks of inclusion, unity and hope.

His reading will begin at 7 p.m. on Feb. 26. Admission will be free, but tickets will be required. They will be available beginning Monday through PortTix, the ticketing arm of Merrill Auditorium.

Tickets will be limited to two per person, and can be picked up at the Merrill Auditorium box office, reserved by phone at 842-0800 or reserved online at porttix.com.

Creative Portland Corp. arranged the event after receiving financial support from the Quimby Family Foundation. PortTix is supporting it by waiving its usual fee, said Jennifer Hutchins, executive director of Creative Portland Corp.

Hutchins and Andres Verzosa, who owns an art gallery in Portland, worked together to arrange the reading. Verzosa was moved by Blanco's poem, and quickly turned to Facebook to build momentum for the reading.

He said, "I just posted, 'Wouldn't it be great to bring him here, and could that actually happen?'"

Emboldened by a strong response, Verzosa began calling arts leaders to turn the idea into reality.

"When I heard 'One Today,' I was just blown away," Verzosa said. "Here was a poet from Maine that tells a story I can relate to as an American. ... It was a big, expansive, inspiring and affirming thing."

Hutchins said the reading is perfect for Creative Portland. The agency works to expand access to the arts, so what's better than a free event in the state's largest city that celebrates the success of a Maine artist, she asked.

"It's not just for people who can afford to buy tickets. It's an event that's open for everybody," she said.

She saluted Verzosa for marshaling the idea and the Quimby Family Foundation for funding it. The event will cost about $10,000, she said.

Blanco, 44, is Hispanic and openly gay. He moved to Maine from Miami with his partner in search of a quieter lifestyle.

He said, "It was a fantasy of dropping out a little bit, and Bethel is such an amazing town. It's nice and peaceful here. The quality of life is just amazing."

He said he has been "shell-shocked" from the media attention since the inauguration, and looks forward to returning to a quiet lifestyle.

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