November 29, 2013

Maine poet Blanco recounts ‘inaugural poet’s journey’

The nationally-renowned poet describes his writing process and his relationship with America in a new book from Beacon Press.

By Christine Armario
The Associated Press

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In this Jan. 21, 2013 file photo, poet Richard Blanco speaks at the U.S. Capitol in Washington during the inauguration for President Barack Obama, left, and Vice President Joe Biden right. Blanco describes writing the inaugural poem in his new book, ìFor All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poetís Journey.î A Cuban-American who grew up in Miami, Blanco says he was he was forced to re-examine his relationship with his adopted country in the weeks leading up to the inauguration. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

The year since has confirmed that conviction. Blanco travels the country, delivering speeches and readings everywhere from Boston after the marathon bombing, to the Fragrance Foundation Awards and the Northeast Association of Transportation Engineers (Blanco himself has worked throughout his adult life as an engineer while also writing poetry and teaching).

As Blanco says, “The weirder the venue, the more I like doing it.”

“I’m excited to explore America and not so much from a first person anymore, but sort of a ‘we’ voice, which is what the inaugural poem was doing,” he said.

Part of his motivation now, he said, is to rekindle the connection he saw Americans experience with poetry when he read at the inauguration.

“A lot of what I’ve heard back from the inauguration is these faces of surprise,” Blanco said. “They’re so entrenched still in America (with) this idea that a poem has to be indecipherable and rhyme and be beyond comprehension for it to be a poem. And people are like, is that a poem?”

But if Blanco spoke of Americans united under “one today” in his poem, it’s also been one of the most divisive years in memory. Congress remains polarized. The government shut down for the first time in 17 years. And the public has increasingly lost its faith in its elected officials.

“I don’t think what we’ve gone through in the last few years is a great example of being one today,” Blanco said. “But sometimes all of that needs to come out of the wash to get there.”

Coming back to Miami from his travels and home with his partner in Bethel, Maine, he said, is like returning to “the womb.” Photographs of Blanco and his brother, some in the faded pastel hues of decades past, line the wall of a hallway in his mother’s duplex.

“It isn’t where you’re born that matters, it’s where you choose to die – that’s your country,” Blanco quotes his mother in one of the three poems he wrote.

That, Blanco says, is the conclusion he has reached, too.

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