Poet Richard Blanco said whether he’s speaking in front of a million people at President Obama’s second inauguration or to a group of young writers on a college campus, the message is the same.

“It is very similar in spirit because it is about connecting poetry and people,” Blanco said by phone Thursday afternoon. “Art is a mirror for us to all look into and see that at the end of the day, we are all the same.”

Blanco, a civil engineer and renowned poet, will share his story at 2 p.m. Saturday as the keynote speaker of the 14th annual Terry Plunkett Poetry Festival at the University of Maine at Augusta. After his speech in the Jewett Hall Auditorium, Blanco will answer questions and have a discussion and book signing.

Blanco, who splits his time between Bethel and Boston, was the first immigrant, Latino and openly gay inaugural poet when he was selected by Obama to read “One Today.”

Blanco’s parents moved with him to the U.S. just 45 days after he was born in Spain and he was raised in Miami. He received a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a master’s degree in creative writing and has been doing both ever since.

“I started writing as an engineer, and that was when I started falling in love with language,” said Blanco, who has written several poetry books and is the education ambassador for the Academy of American Poets.

He said he enjoys visiting schools and working with young writers, but he also focuses on helping teachers by providing them with resources and lesson plans.

“Many people just haven’t had an authentic experience with poetry, so they have a big misconception about what poetry is and can be,” Blanco said. “It can be an incredible experience.”

The poetry festival kicks off Friday at UMA. The opening ceremony at 5:30 p.m. in the Randall Fireplace Lounge will include poetry readings, a musical performance and a reception. Saturday’s events begin at 10 a.m., also in the lounge. The festival is free and open to the public.

Terry Plunkett, for whom the festival is named, was an English professor at UMA for more than 30 years. He died in 1998.

Jason Pafundi can be reached at 621-5663 or at:

[email protected] Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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