Richard Blanco on Beyoncé, Gloria Estefan, and Life After the Inauguration
"I'm starting to feel a little bit weary, doing this, doing that," he laughs. "Following my mother's example, I'm just one of those people who can't say no. So I'm starting to learn that I can't be in three places at one time, stuff I never really had to negotiate."
It's an overwhelming feeling that most poets don't get to experience, he admits. But then again, most poets don't get hand-selected by the White House. Most poets don't share their stages with Beyoncé. Most poets don't get to read their work in front of an entire nation. Richard Blanco is not most poets.
Since he read his poem "One Today" at the second inauguration of President Obama in January, Blanco's life has changed drastically. Now he gets recognized on the street. He receives emails thanking him for his work. When he returns to his home in Maine, it'll be to a letter from President Obama.
Don't get him wrong; Blanco says it feels pretty great to be the Beyoncé of poetry. "I can't say that I don't love the attention. It's like any art, especially with poetry -- for most of your life, you're recognized with your peers and there's a sense of connection in many ways that are very genuine and very powerful. But never at this scale. So what's great about the inaugural event is that it gives not just the poet but poetry this grand stage to get people interested in poetry. I think it should be a law that there should be a poet every [time]."
But for Blanco, the son of Cuban exiles, who grew up in Miami and studied at FIU, there's no road map for how to proceed. He's gone from the relatively obscure world of poetry to becoming a household name, and he says there really isn't anyone he can turn to now for advice.
"I have no other poet to rely on to say, 'How do you work your way through this?' There's nobody I can call up to say, 'Hey, did you do the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Atlanta reading last time?' The poets don't get invited to that generally," he laughs.
Blanco says his preconceived notions of the inauguration itself were pretty far off, too. "In your head, you think you're going to come down the steps and be announced, like "The Poet!" he says with a smile, recalling the reality: being shuttled from one media appearance to another in a congested and largely shut-down Washington, D.C. "I thought I was going to [read] and then just sit at the ball all night.
"It's all great," he continues. "I'm just taking it all in and trying to see how I can turn this into some other element that does a greater good for a greater number of people." His thoughts have turned to poetry education for middle-schoolers, he says. "Poetry can happen more often if somehow how we can stop being so scared of poetry in America in some ways, investing in that education element of helping teachers learn how to teach poetry, helping kids learn how to learn poetry. No, enjoy -- learn is a bad word to use. Enjoy. Feel."