[image-1]Richard Blanco, the poet best known for writing and reciting the inaugural poem “One Today” for President Obama’s 2012 inauguration, will give a reading and lecture about his work at Charleston County School of the Arts on Wed. April 22 from 7-9 p.m. The event will be held at the Academic Magnet High School Lecture Hall, 5109 W. Enterprise St., in North Charleston. The event is free and open to the public.
Blanco is only the fifth poet to receive the honor of being asked to be the inaugural poet, putting him in the company of Maya Angelou and Robert Frost. At age 44, he was not only the youngest inaugural poet, but the first Latino, first immigrant, and first gay man to serve in that role.
Blanco writes about his experience as an inaugural poet in his book For All of Us, One Today. Although Blanco says he does not know what process led him to be chosen for the role, he can’t help but think that President Obama may have been involved, and writes “I also can’t help thinking that he may have chosen me because he connected with my story as a child of exiles/immigrants in the same way I have always connected with his story. Surely he must have had to navigate questions about cultural identity, his place in America, and the American Dream throughout his life, as I’ve had to do.”
In an interview with Terry Gross for NPR, Blanco described how writing the inauguration poem differed from his typical writing process. “One of the hardest challenges of the poem itself overall was how to, at once, put myself in there, but realizing that this poem isn’t about me, it’s about our country. Part of the process that I went through was deciding what was important enough to me that I felt I needed to put in there. Of course, the first impulse was — because I was the youngest, first openly gay, first Hispanic or Latino — the first impulse was: I have to represent all this in the poem, and sort of be more of an in-your-face kind of poem. Then I took a step back from that and I realized, well, yes, it’s all those things, but I think there’s a larger platform here, a larger sense of what America is that I need to come through in the poem.”
“One Today” is primarily written to render a country rather than a person, whereas most of Blanco’s personal work is just that: more personal. The poet appears in all of his poems, and most of his work is concerned with how identity is influenced by place or how one’s experience of a place can be influenced by one identity. Blanco writes of himself, “Sorting out my cultural contradictions and yearning and what it meant, by contrast to be — or not to be — an American became an obsession, the central themes of my poems since graduate school and to this day.”