On Tuesday, March 19, the fifth inaugural poet Richard Blanco visited Main 200 to present a detailed talk on the methods, inspiration and craft of his critically acclaimed poetry. 60 people attended the first session from 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., with nearly 30 more attending the second session that extended to 1:15 p.m. His talk focused on how his nationality, culture and sexuality influenced his work as a poet, including the details of his craft and composition. During the session, he read his poem “El Florida Room” in which he discussed his use of repetition, figurative language and stanza structure of the work to the group of students and professors.
Chosen for former President Barack Obama’s second inauguration ceremony, Blanco became the fifth poet to read poetry for the incoming president of the United States. He was the first Latino, immigrant and gay man to read poetry during a presidential inauguration. Among many more, Blanco’s publications include works of poetry such as “City of a Hundred Fires” in 1998, which received the Agnes Starrett Poetry Prize, and “Directions to the Beach of the Dead,” published in 2005, which won the PEN/Americans Beyond Margins Award. His most recent publication, “How to Love a Country,” was published in 2019. With numerous awards to his name, Blanco has also received honorary doctorates from Macalester College, Colby College and the University of Rhode Island. Blanco was also the first education ambassador for the Academy of American Poets.
His poem “One Today,” which Blanco read during Obama’s inauguration, was made into a book with illustrations by Dave Pilkey. He has also published two memoirs: “For All of Us, One Today,” published in 2013, and “The Prince of los Cocuyos,” which was published a year later. These memoirs received the Maine Literary Award and the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Memoir.
Blanco believes that “good art answers questions – I aim for great art, which asks questions.” He spoke of every poet’s “central obsession” in their work, which he described as the theme or topic that poets will continually return to in their work. Blanco described his “central obsession” as that of finding “home” in his heritage and sexuality. He often describes himself as “made in Cuba, assembled in Spain, imported to the United States” when discussing his heritage. When his mother was seven months pregnant, she moved with his family from Cuba to Madrid, Spain, before moving to New York just after Blanco was born.
Blanco believes the most important impact of poetry is what the humanities seek to do as a whole: “To deepen our sense of self and to find empathy for ourselves and others.” He believes that poetry can make better human beings – in turn, this will create better doctors, lawyers and workers.
For West Chester University students interested in poetry, Blanco suggested that students not view their current work as their best work that they’ll ever accomplish.
“Hopefully, my best work is still to come,” he said.
As somebody who worked as a civil consulting engineer, Blanco emphasized that anyone can pursue poetry.
“Don’t think of it as a career — there are things you can do no matter your career.” In 1991, he pursued a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Florida International University. Years later, he received a Master of Fine Arts degree under the mentorship of the poet Campbell McGrath. Blanco urges students interested in poetry to involve themselves in a community of writers, take writing classes and continue to write as often as they can.
For more information on Richard Blanco, students can visit his website at https://richard-blanco.com/.
Sam Walsh is a third-year student majoring in special education and English with a minor in Autism studies. SW850037@wcupa.edu