If you watched the recent presidential inauguration of Barak Obama, you may have noticed the newest inauguration poet, chosen to grace the proceedings with an original poem. Richard Blanco was picked by President Obama to deliver the traditional “occasional” poem composed for this presidential event.
In the past, presidents such as John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton have invited poets to read poems. Kennedy chose Robert Frost and Clinton chose Maya Angelou. This certainly shows the appreciation of poetry and how a well-sculpted verse can lend a weighty depth to mark the day.
The choice of Blanco, 44, is a new wrinkle in the history of presidential inauguration poets. For the first time, a Latino poet was chosen, one whose roots lie beyond the boundaries of the United States. Blanco was born in Spain to Cuban parents, and he grew up in southern Florida. He also is openly gay. These details may not seem significant, but they reveal that in making his choice, Obama likely considered somebody who embodied certain segments of our society that often exist on the fringes. Obama, being our first African-American president, obviously is a new wrinkle, a fresh, forward-thinking sort of leader, on the fringes in certain respects, himself. Blanco also happens to represent not just demographic groups but also geographic areas that came through for the incumbent in November. Coincidence? I think not.
However, Richard Blanco is a truly fine poet, and one who is worthy of this honor based solely on his poems, regardless of other possible political factors.
Here is a portion of one of his poems that touches on his primary theme: the experience of being an American and adopting certain American interests—in this case, watching the Miss America Pageant (from “Betting on America”):
My grandmother was the bookie, set up
at the kitchen table that night, her hair
in curlers, pencil and pad jotting down
two-dollar bets, paying five-to-one
on which Miss would take the crown.
Abuelo put his money on Miss Wyoming—
“She’s got great teeth,” he pronounced as if
complimenting a horse, not her smile
filling the camera before she wisped away
like a cloud in her creamy chiffon dress.
I dug up enough change from the sofa
and car seats to bet on Miss Wisconsin,
thinking I was as American as she because
I was as blond as she was, and I knew
that’s where all the cheese came from.
You should check out more of Richard Blanco’s work. It is fine stuff, and offers a new and fresh perspective we all can learn from and enjoy.
Address correspondence and poem submissions to: email@example.com or Neil Carpathios, Shawnee State University, Dept. of English & Humanities, 940 Second Street, Portsmouth, OH 45662. (740-351-3478).