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Bob Holman & Margery Snyder

Obama’s 2nd Inaugural Poet

By January 10, 2013

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On Wednesday, the Presidential Inauguration Committee announced Barack Obama’s choice of Richard Blanco as the poet who will be asked to write a poem and read it to the world at the inauguration ceremony on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on January 21. It’s certainly no easy assignment to write a poem to order for such an occasion, to knit together the personal and the public, the office and the man or woman stepping into it, the details of individual life and the larger historical context in just a few words to be spoken to a huge audience that rarely listens to poems. Blanco will be only the fifth poet on the inaugural podium—the previous presidential inauguration poems were by Robert Frost, Maya Angelou, Miller Williams and Elizabeth Alexander—but he is the first Latino, the first openly gay poet, and the youngest person ever to serve as inaugural poet. He came from Cuba in his mother’s womb, was born in Spain, was brought to New York as an infant, grew up in Miami, and now lives in Maine. He works as a civil engineer, and is the author of three collections of poetry:

City of a Hundred Fires, winner of the 1997 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998)

Directions to The Beach of the Dead, winner of the PEN Beyond Margins Award (University of Arizona Press, 2005)

Looking for The Gulf Motel (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012)

We’ll be watching and listening a week from Monday, Mr. Blanco! May your words take flight and bear us all into the future.

from The Washington Post:
Richard Blanco chosen as inaugural poet,” by Ron Charles
“For President Obama, the inauguration on Jan. 21 will be one of innumerable moments in the spotlight, albeit a significant one. But for the official inaugural poet—for poetry itself—it will be a singular event: Tens of millions of people all over the world will listen. In unison. To a poem. For many, it will be the only poem they hear for four years.... On Wednesday, the Presidential Inaugural Committee announced that Richard Blanco had been chosen to speak at the swearing-in ceremony. The author of three critically acclaimed collections, Blanco is a relatively obscure writer, even in the world of poetry, where giants are often unknown to the public at large. In the announcement, his superlative personal story attracted more attention than his work: Blanco, 44, will be the youngest poet, the first Hispanic poet and the first gay poet to speak at an inauguration.”

from The New York Times:
Poet’s Kinship With the President,” by Sheryl Gay Stolberg
“From the moment Barack Obama burst onto the political scene, the poet Richard Blanco, a son of Cuban exiles, says he felt ‘a spiritual connection’ with the man who would become the nation’s 44th president.... 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.”

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