Thursday, January 10, 2013
Poet’s Kinship With the President
Craig Dilger for The New York Times
WASHINGTON — From the moment Barack Obama burst onto the political scene, the poet Richard Blanco, a son of Cuban exiles, says he felt “a spiritual connection” with the man who would become the nation’s 44th president.
Like Mr. Obama, who chronicled his multicultural upbringing in a best-selling autobiography, “Dreams From My Father,” Mr. Blanco has been on a quest for personal identity through the written word. He said his affinity for Mr. Obama springs from his own feeling of straddling different worlds; he is Latino and gay (and worked as a civil engineer while pursuing poetry). His poems are laden with longing for the sights and smells of the land his parents left behind.
Now Mr. Obama is about to pluck Mr. Blanco out of the relatively obscure and quiet world of poetry and put him on display before the entire world. On Wednesday the president’s inaugural planners will announce that Mr. Blanco is to be the 2013 inaugural poet, joining the ranks of notables like Robert Frost and Maya Angelou.
“Since the beginning of the campaign, I totally related to his life story and the way he speaks of his family, and of course his multicultural background,” Mr. Blanco said in a telephone interview from the rural village of Bethel, Me., where he lives with his partner. “There has always been a spiritual connection in that sense. I feel in some ways that when I’m writing about my family, I’m writing about him.”
Mr. Blanco must now compose an original poem for the president’s ceremonial swearing-in on the steps of the Capitol on Jan. 21. (Mr. Obama will take the official oath at the White House on Jan. 20, as required by the Constitution.) Addie Whisenant, the inaugural committee’s spokeswoman, said Mr. Obama picked Mr. Blanco because the poet’s “deeply personal poems are rooted in the idea of what it means to be an American.”
Friends of Mr. Blanco’s, and fellow poets, say the president could not have found a more perfect fit.