A Poem For The President

Jan 11 2013 @ 12:49pm

This week saw the announcement of Richard Blanco, who is both Cuban-American and gay, as the Inaugural poet. Katy Waldman describes the task before him as perhaps "the trickiest of all" for a poet, "requiring a kind of ringing, triumphal, sentimental tone that seems at odds with the evasions and double-backs of so much good poetry." She elaborates:

Blanco must address not only Obama but the entire world. He confided in an NPR interview that his main hurdle will be to "maintain sort of that sense of intimacy and that conversational tone in a poem that obviously has to sort of encompass a whole lot more than just my family and my experience." Walking such a tightrope—the poet as creative individual, the poet as mouthpiece for something bigger—should test Blanco in interesting ways, especially given that his self-image as an outsider provides a through line for much of his work.

Well he couldn't be worse than Maya Angelou. In an interview with the Poetry Society of America, Blanco described how he approaches politics:

Being a Cuban-American from Miami many people presume that I am a hard-core right-wing conservative; on the other hand, as a queer poet, many immediately think I am a total left-wing liberal.

I resent these assumptions; and—like most artists, I suppose—I rebel against expectations and stereotypes…My poetry and I are not exclusively aligned with any one particular group—Latino, Cuban, queer, or "white." Though I embrace and respect each one, I prefer wading in the middle where I can examine and question all sides of all "stories."

I was inclined to say that my poetry is apolitical, but thinking about it more carefully here, instead I would say my work may be pan-political. By this I mean that I am interested in many political angles, often contradictory ones, whether describing my destitute Tía Ida living in a Cuba crippled by Socialism, or the broken spirit of a small town in Italy erased by run-a-muck Capitalism. Regardless, one thing is clear to me: rather than "talk" politics in my work, I prefer to "show" the consequences of politics through portraits of people and places. I am more interested in the effects than the causes, in discovering how we survive and make sense of all the suffering the world throws in our faces over and over again, rather than finding a politicized reason for the chaos or pointing a finger at someone or something. For me, it's not about finding blame or solutions; it's narrating the stories of survival and, hopefully, triumph of the human spirit.