Richard Blanco, Symbol of Diversity, Selected As Obama’s Inaugural Poet

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Nico Tucci / richard-blanco.com

It’s a rather auspicious date for poet Richard Blanco’s prestigious appointment: his namesake, 37th president Richard Nixon, was born 100 years ago today. The 44-year-old poet, born of Cuban parents, took the name of a Republican leader who railed against Fidel Castro. Now he’s been chosen as the inaugural poet for a Democratic President’s second swearing-in.

Blanco is a wellspring of demographics: he’s an under-50 gay Hispanic born in Spain, later raised in Miami and now living with his partner in a rural Maine town at the foot of the White Mountains. He’s also a civil engineer, teacher and award-winning poet who waxes often of home and family. “Richard Blanco is a good choice,” says English Professor Grace Bauer, who specializes in contemporary poetry at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. “Blanco’s poems speak eloquently of the immigrant experience, which is, of course, the American experience.”

So far the headlines are trumpeting the biographical trailblazing of this fifth inaugural bard, as President Obama’s team no doubt anticipated. Robert Frost was the first inaugural poet, reciting “The Gift Outright” at JFK’s ceremony in 1961. Maya Angelou became the first black and first female inaugural poet at Bill Clinton’s affair in 1993. Now, following Miller Williams and Elizabeth Alexander, Blanco will go down in history as the “youngest-ever Inaugural poet and the first Hispanic or LGBT person to recite a poem at the swearing-in ceremony,” a factoid trumpeted at the top of the inaugural committee’s press release.

(Q&A: Inauguration Poet Elizabeth Alexander)

Though Blanco will craft a work especially for the occasion, here is a taste of his style from his first published poem, “América,” a piece that highlights the complexities of identity in the big ol’ melting pot that we call the U.S. of A.:

I spoke English; my parent’s didn’t.
We didn’t live in a two story house
with a maid or a wood panel station wagon
nor vacation camping in Colorado.
None of the girls had hair of gold;
none of my brothers or cousins
were named Greg, Peter, or Marsha;
we were not the Brady Bunch.
None of the black and white characters
on Donna Reed or on Dick Van Dyke Show
were named Guadalupe, Lázaro, or Mercedes.
Patty Duke’s family wasn’t like us either–
they didn’t have pork on Thanksgiving,
they ate turkey with cranberry sauce;
they didn’t have yuca, they had yams
like the dittos of Pilgrims I colored in class.

Blanco published his third book of poetry, Looking for the Gulf Motel, last year. One reviewer said of the work that “both social and cultural marginalization are mapped onto an island of individual identity.” That’s the type of sentence that will inspire a lot of eye-rolling about the pretensions of liberal arts majors, but it also explains why Blanco is a deft choice. Showing his fast embrace of previously marginalized Americans was a major theme at Obama’s Democratic Convention; it’s a tacit argument that the country’s tapestry is fundamentally changing and liberals are hip to the program. Obama’s selection says, “Marsha, meet Guadalupe.”

Blanco, of course, is more than just the demographic boxes he checks. But his position on the program sends an unsubtle message about Obama’s America — coming at the beginning of a term in which he’s promised to reform immigration laws. “I’m honored that Richard Blanco will join me and Vice President Biden at our second Inaugural,” President Obama said in a statement. “His contributions to the fields of poetry and the arts have already paved a path forward for future generations of writers. Richard’s writing will be wonderfully fitting for an Inaugural that will celebrate the strength of the American people and our nation’s great diversity.”

MORE: Who’s Performing at the Presidential Inauguration and Grammy Awards?

16 comments
mrbomb13
mrbomb13

Well, looks as if President Obama could have been a College Admissions Officer...his 'selected candidate' is a perfect affirmative action blend.

By the way, the majority of Americans will NOT be Cuban, LGBT, and sub-par poets.

deconstructiva
deconstructiva

Katy, perhaps YOU should insist that all replies

from now on needs to post in verse and rhyme.

Let's picture what Obama thinks as he

awaits Mitt Romney's concession call with glee:

"I guess, alas, I'll need to show some class,

though in the end I kicked Mitt Romney's..."

deconstructiva
deconstructiva

Thanks, Katy. no doubt once this post hits Drudge or RCP the rightie locusts will pour in to complain about Obama's choice of poet. Good thing Romney didn't win since no doubt decent right wing poets are hard to find.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@mrbomb13 

Fortunately they're also not angry know-nothings like you as the last election proved.

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

@deconstructiva 

Rightie locusts...

Would you care to clarify that statement, especially since,

1) Locusts come around once every 17 years (at least in NJ)

2) Locusts are far more numerous than today's Congressional Republicans.

3) Locusts devour everything they touch.

4) Locusts possess nowhere near the amount of intelligence of the average person (let alone politician).

I wouldn't normally go into such detail, but I just can't let your unqualified statement go unchallenged.  Also, would you care to clarify your statement about Romney and 'right-wing poets?'

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

@DonQuixotic @mrbomb13 

Angry Know-Nothings....

How, exactly, would I fall under the category of an angry know-nothing?

In what way is my statement untrue or anger-driven?

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

@DonQuixotic @mrbomb13 

Again, point-by-point:

1) The italicized portion of my comment is true.  It was meant to rebut the author's claim that America is heading in a such a direction.  Besides the comment on the sub-par poets, look at the statistics for the rest (i.e. Cuban, LGBT).

2) "Who cares?"  I do.  I care about attention to detail, and get annoyed when purported authors make grand claims with little-to-no evidence (especially at an honored magazine like TIME).

3) Blanco is a sub-par poet, because his works are unoriginal.  The themes in his poems are mundane and much-imitated (i.e. struggles of minorities, diversity).  His works do not shed new light on the challenges of minorities, inspire hope, or advocate new lines of thought.  If anything, he re-treads the same ground as poets in the same vein of thought.  Therefore, Blanco is neither exemplary or noteworthy.  Since he claims to be a professional, I hold him to a higher level than, say, my high school students.  As a professional, his work is sub-standard, and he therefore is a sub-par poet.

4) In addition to semantics, I have also given you varied syntax, proper grammar, critical reasoning, and substantiation of thought.  I have not personally attacked Blanco, but have merely offered critical thoughts on his work AND on how the article's writer described him.

5) It makes no difference to me what he represents.  My problem lies with the non-evidenced conclusions drawn by the article's writer.  Therefore, your comments about my alleged intolerance/racism are thoroughly unfounded in fact.

6) I do not hate diversity.  On the contrary, I prize diversity in all of its forms.  Again, you should be more careful before drawing unfounded conclusions.

7) You have every right to be happy with Obama's pick.  

8) I'm actually not angry with you at all.  I'm just puzzled as to why you're angry with me (especially when I've consistently invited you to further the discussion).

9) Again with assuming party affiliation, I might be playing Devil's Advocate just to get a feel for the opposition (and to draw opposing opinions - you never know).  Again, be careful before drawing blanket assumptions about people.

Anyway, it's your choice as to whether to reply.  I am merely trying to engage you in a formal discussion that is free of personal attacks against you or me. Please remember that it was you who originally commented on my post. I have a right to defend myself against both warranted and unwarranted criticisms.  You have the right to post such attacks, but you also have the responsibility to back up such comments when challenged.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@mrbomb13 @DonQuixotic 

I don't have to back up anything that your own attitude and words support.  

By the way, the majority of Americans will NOT be Cuban, LGBT, and sub-par poets.

See this?  Right here?  Who cares.  Why is Blanco a sub-par poet?  Have you read any of his works?  I know you'll say yes but the answer is no.  All you've given us are semantics and personal attacks on him.  What difference does it make whether or not he represents the majority of Americans?  I'm left to assume you don't like him because he represents diversity and tolerance. You hate diversity, we get it, but why you're personally attacking him to this degree is beyond me.  I'm happy with this pick because it sends a nice message of diversity, precisely what Obama ran on.  I'm not going to have a further discussion with you because you're not offering one.  You're angry at this pick for the sake of being angry.  I don't need to be told by you what your party affiliation is, you're wearing it right on your sleeve. 

I'll stop feeding the troll now - rant away.

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

@DonQuixotic @mrbomb13 

Before I get to the brunt of my reply, since you gave no argument(s) to the contrary, I can only assume that you have no way of supporting any of your previous personal attacks (i.e. calling me vile, and an angry know-nothing).  

Actually, unless you are unaware of the history/legislation surrounding it, comparing Blanco to an affirmative action candidate is perfectly legitimate.  My original point merely picks up where the article left off.

In case you hadn't noticed, the article indiscreetly notes how Blanco is a, "wellspring of demographics" (and then eagerly spells each one of those out).  The article then notes the "biographical trailblazing" of Blanco, and then goes as far as to label him the, "inaugural bard."  As if the readers hadn't heard it enough, the article then quotes the White House press release, to repeat everything stated above.  Interestingly, after finally conceding that, "Blanco, of course, is more than just the demographic boxes he checks," the writer then provides a mere link (embedded in the word 'more') to Blanco's non-identity politics accomplishments.

Clearly, the thrust of the article was the diversity, diversity, and (you guessed it) diversity of Blanco.  It would have made the average college admissions officer swoon, and clearly had the same effect on the Obama Administration.  It would take a political novice to not see how Obama is capitalizing on the chance to appeal to so many key political demographics at the same time.  Also, the author seized on the chance to note (what she calls) the large amount of change coming to America.  Unfortunately, she does not back up her position, and makes it easy to poke holes in her argument.

As a side-note, when I think of a bard, I think of "The Bard" himself - William Shakespeare.  To me, it's rather fitting that TIME chose to quote one of Blanco's poems, which was fully focused on - that's right - diversity.  As an experienced English teacher, I can assure you that Blanco is no bard.  His work is no better than my high school Juniors, and is rather mediocre from an objective standpoint.

Lastly, I never gave my political party affiliation.  That was an assumption which you made.  I invite you (again) to continue this discussion.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@mrbomb13 @DonQuixotic 

Calling Richard Blanco an "affirmative action" pick does nothing to advance the conversation, give me a break.  I don't need to worry about weakening my side because you have no argument to begin with; just agitation.  Still wondering why your party lost the election?  Look no further than your attitude.

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

@DonQuixotic @mrbomb13 

Okay, similar question:  How was my original post vile and wrong?  In what way are my blinders on?  How does attempting to advance this discussion indicate any degree of immaturity?

I must caution you that your position strikes me as nothing more than a collection of personal attacks.  Those attacks weaken your side, and show that you have no depth/critical reasoning for your statements.

Just trying to help you out...

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@mrbomb13 @DonQuixotic 

If I have to point out to you why your above post is vile (and wrong) then what's the use of explaining it to begin with?  Your blinders are on.  Obama's choice is symbolic; grow up.

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

@deconstructiva @mrbomb13 

A couple of comments to your response:

1) You are correct that cicadas are more like grasshoppers.  In NJ (where I grew up), they were always described as being similar to locusts, because (just like cicada swarms) locust swarms devour crop fields.

2) I fail to see how Republicans in any way exhibit "swarming, crop-devouring"-type behaviors.  If anything, Congressional Democrats (and their supporters in the mainstream media) swarm on a number of issues as well.  One need not look any further than the current events on gun control (Gov. Andrew Cuomo and President Obama) and immigration (Obama and the entire Democratic Party).

3) Please don't confuse my comment (which was meant to further the discussion) with a 'drive-by comment.'  While you proved your point with cicadas v. locusts, you have done nothing to prove your comparison of Republicans to locusts.