Richard Blanco Selected As 2013 Inaugural Poet

Jim Burroway

January 9th, 2013

Openly gay poet Richard Blanco, whose poetry draws from his own experiences growing up in an immigrant Cuban family and bridging different worlds and cultures, has been selected as the poet for President Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremony:

Like Mr. Obama, who chronicled his multicultural upbringing in a best-selling autobiography, “Dreams From My Father,” Mr. Blanco has been on a quest for personal identity through the written word. He said his affinity for Mr. Obama springs from his own feeling of straddling different worlds; he is Latino and gay (and worked as a civil engineer while pursuing poetry). His poems are laden with longing for the sights and smells of the land his parents left behind.

Now Mr. Obama is about to pluck Mr. Blanco out of the relatively obscure and quiet world of poetry and put him on display before the entire world. On Wednesday the president’s inaugural planners will announce that Mr. Blanco is to be the 2013 inaugural poet, joining the ranks of notables like Robert Frost and Maya Angelou.

“Since the beginning of the campaign, I totally related to his life story and the way he speaks of his family, and of course his multicultural background,” Mr. Blanco said in a telephone interview from the rural village of Bethel, Me., where he lives with his partner. “There has always been a spiritual connection in that sense. I feel in some ways that when I’m writing about my family, I’m writing about him.”

You really should read the entire profile in The New York Times. Blanco lives in Maine with his partner and works as a civil engineer by day. This poem appeared in the December 29, 2011 issue of The New Republic:

Burning in the Rain

Someday compassion would demand
I set myself free of my desire to recreate
my father, indulge in my mother’s losses,
strangle lovers with words, forcing them
to confess for me and take the blame.
Today was that day: I tossed them, sheet
by sheet on the patio and gathered them
into a pyre. I wanted to let them go
in a blaze, tiny white dwarfs imploding
beside the azaleas and ficus bushes,
let them crackle, burst like winged seeds,
let them smolder into gossamer embers—
a thousand gray butterflies in the wind.
Today was that day, but it rained, kept
raining. Instead of fire, water—drops
knocking on doors, wetting windows
into mirrors reflecting me in the oaks.
The garden walls and stones swelling
into ghostlier shades of themselves,
the wind chimes giggling in the storm,
a coffee cup left overflowing with rain.
Instead of burning, my pages turned
into water lilies floating over puddles,
then tiny white cliffs as the sun set,
finally drying all night under the moon
into papier-mâché souvenirs. Today
the rain would not let their lives burn.


January 9th, 2013

Don’t know his work. Glad to know of him. Lovely poem. Both in intent and expression. The stress that falls on the second syllable of ‘winged’ is both elegant and witty.

Jim Burroway

January 9th, 2013

Much to my shame, I have a completely tin ear when it comes to poetry. I’m much more visual, and I loved the visions this poem conjured.

Reed Boyer

January 10th, 2013

GREAT visuals in this, and the “Some day / Today / Today / Today” structure was a treat (with the final one almost hidden near the very end – that last haunting sentence’s start).
“Tin ear?” Nah. Read it aloud. Twice. Once observing a pause at the end of every line (which is NOT the way to read poetry), and the second time simply reading it for the sake of each sentence, noticing the play of fire and water and the way the rain builds and builds and builds . . .
Your ear “got it” just fine.

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