Much was made about the symbolism of the choice of Richard Blanco to be the U.S. Presidential Inaugural Poet at Jan. 21 ceremonies that began President Obama’s second term. Filling a role first assigned by President Kennedy to the white-haired bard of rural New England, Robert Frost, Richard Blanco is young (he just turned 45), an immigrant (born in Madrid to Cuban exiles who quickly resettled in Miami) and gay.
All of those aspects of Blanco inform his poetry, but what resonates in such works as “One Today,” the poem written for the Obama inaugural, and in his most recent collection, “Looking for the Gulf Motel,” is the universality of his journey.
“Looking for the Gulf Motel” ($15.95, University of Pittsburgh Press), published last year, is one man’s mid-life search for self that is at its most eloquent when looking outward at people and places, and a nation, that made him. From an aunt’s house in Hollywood to his own kitchen in Maine, from ghosts in Cuba to the base of the Statue of Liberty, Blanco shares vividly rendered feelings of loss, solitude, joy and appreciation. Here is the opening to Blanco’s poem “Sitting on My Mother’s Porch in Westchester, Florida”:
“In the afternoon I see myself at night
through the hibiscus chasing fireflies
with my dead father who traps them
in glass jars -- nightlights for my room.
It’s always summer in the front yard:
my brother and I slicing watermelons
with grandfather’s machete, our shirts
stained pink, mouths sticky with sugar
washed off as we play with the hose.
The gardenia my mother planted
twenty years ago blooms for the first time
again, while father still mows the lawn,
the grass clippings green glitter stuck
to the sweat on his hairy chest, his skin
the scent of yellow, of the sun ripening
heart-shaped mangos my grandmother
turns into marmalade to fatten me up.
Everything I am is here still …”
Blanco will read a selection of poems at the Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale (1 E. Las Olas Blvd.) during an appearance 6-8 p.m. April 27. The event inside the museum’s Horvitz Auditorium will include an audience Q&A, followed by a book-signing for “Looking for the Gulf Motel” at Books & Books at the Museum in the adjacent lobby.
Tickets are $10, but free with the purchase of “Looking for the Gulf Motel.” To enter the signing line, you must purchase your book at Books & Books at the Museum. Info: 954-262-0255, firstname.lastname@example.org and MOAFL.org.
On April 28 at 7 p.m., Blanco will read in the New World Center Symphony Hall (500 17th St., Miami Beach) as part of the month-long O, Miami poetry festival. Also reading that night, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and Megan Amram of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” and Twitter.
Tickets are $20, $30 (with tote gift bag) and $50 (with tote and copy of "One Today"). Info: OMiami.org.