Richard Blanco On Being the Inaugrual Poet

Feb 22, 2013

When Richard Blanco got the call that he'd been chosen to write a poem for President Obama's second inauguration, at first he thought it was a prank. He still has no idea how he ended up on the President's radar.

Richard Blanco says this handshake gave him a lot of confidence on inauguration day.

"I would dream actually that the President has actually read my work and was so moved by it," says Blanco, laughing, "that he said, 'I want this guy to read a poem at the inaugural.'"

After the announcement, he says there was such an outpouring of love and support from Miami, he had to get back here from his home in Bethel, Maine, as soon as he could. 

So tonight (Feb. 22) at 7:30, he'll be at the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts to talk about growing up in Miami and his road to the inauguration and, of course, to read his poetry. The event is free, but tickets are required. 

(If you miss him this time around, he'll be back in April for the O, Miami Poetry Festival.)

Blanco was amazed by how much freedom he had with the poem. He thought he'd be reading from a teleprompter, but instead he had his own paper copy and was even still tweaking his poem, "One Today," right up until he read it on inauguration day. 

The son of Cuban exiles says a career in the arts didn't seem like an option when he was growing up. He was good in math, and his parents encouraged him to become a civil engineer -- a career he enjoyed a lot.

That's what he was doing when he made his first forays into poetry. A Sunset Drive improvement project in South Miami inspired a poem he read, in a hard hat, on the occasion of the groundbreaking. 

Photo of a Man on Sunset Drive

Circa 1914 and 2008

And so it began: the earth torn, split open

by a dirt road cutting through palmettos

and wild tamarind trees defending the land

against the sun. Next to the road, a shack

leans into the wind, on the wooden porch,

white chickens peck at the floor boards

beside crates of avocados and key limes, 

a man under the shadow of his hat, stares

into the camera. It is 1914. He doesn't know

that in a lifetime the unclaimed land behind 

him will be cleared of scrub and sawgrass, 

the soil will be turned, made to give back

what the farmers wish, their lonely houses 

will stand acres apart from one another, 

jailed behind the boughs of their orchards.

Read the rest of the poem here

Copyright: Richard Blanco, 2008