Cuban American named poet for Obama inauguration

I had never heard of Cuban American poet Richard Blanco until the news feeds began reporting President Obama’s decision to feature him as the official poet for his second inauguration later this month. From what I have read, he is a child of Cuban exiles who grew up in Miami and graduated from Columbus High School. Oh… and he is also openly gay and an ardent Obama supporter who “identifies” with our president. Imagine that: A gay Latino poet that supports Obama and he is a Cuban American to boot!

Personally, I could not care less about his sexual orientation and political leanings. However, it would seem that those are extremely important points for the press to consider since virtually every single news story about the choice of Blanco centers around not his poetry, but his ethnicity, sexual orientation, and admiration for Obama. As for me, I prefer to judge a poet by his poetry, but we will discuss that later. First, the news…

Via the Miami Herald:

Poet Richard Blanco’s road from Miami to presidential inauguration

Born to Cuban exiles and raised in Miami, Richard Blanco also notches a number of firsts: First Hispanic, first gay person and youngest person to ever be named inaugural poet. Richard Blanco decided to become a poet, he didn’t waste time. A Christopher Columbus High class of ’86 graduate who lived in Miami, he learned that poet Campbell McGrath would be leaving Northwestern to teach at Florida International University, so he wrote a letter to the man who would become his mentor.“He said, ‘I want to be a poet, and you’re a poet; can I take your class?’?” remembers McGrath, a professor of creative writing. “He was literally my first student at FIU before I was even teaching there. I thought, ‘Wow — anybody that eager must be someone I need to let in my class.’?”

McGrath’s suspicions proved correct: Blanco was eager, and Blanco was good. Good enough that on Wednesday he was named the 2013 inaugural poet, joining an elite group that includes Robert Frost, Maya Angelou, Miller Williams and Elizabeth Alexander. He’ll compose an original poem for President Barack Obama’s swearing-in on Jan. 21. He also notches a number of significant firsts: He’s the youngest inaugural poet at 44; he’s the first Hispanic (he was born in Madrid to Cuban exile parents and raised in Miami); he’s the first gay person to be chosen (he lives with his partner in rural Maine).

Blanco, who worked as a civil engineer before concentrating on writing, didn’t grant interviews on Wednesday but told National Public Radio earlier that inspiration struck quickly once he heard the news. (His publisher, University of Pittsburgh Press, learned he had been chosen when Barnes & Noble ordered a batch of his latest work, Looking for the Gulf Motel.)

“I think I started writing it right there in my head,” Blanco told NPR. “Images just started coming to me. What’s interesting, as I think every inaugural poet has said, it’s a very difficult assignment because it is an occasional poem. But luckily, I really sort of have keyed in to the theme of the inauguration, which is ‘Our People, Our Future,’ and writing about America is a topic that obsesses me in terms of cultural negotiation and my background as a Cuban American. And so it wasn’t a completely unfamiliar topic.”

Continue reading HERE.

So what do I think of Blanco’s poetry? From the few poems of his I came across on the internet, I found his work to be interesting though not my cup of tea. I am not saying he is not talented; I am just saying there are other poets I would prefer to read. But since the whole Cuban American dynamic appears so important to everyone, I thought it would be interesting to provide our readers with a sample of Blanco’s poetry addressing the Cuban exile experience in Miami.

Here is an excerpt from the poem América so you can judge for yourself:

Although Tía Miriam boasted she discovered
at least half-a-dozen uses for peanut butter–
topping for guava shells in syrup,
butter substitute for Cuban toast,
hair conditioner and relaxer–
Mamà never knew what to make
of the monthly five-pound jars
handed out by the immigration department
until my friend, Jeff, mentioned jelly.

There was always pork though,
for every birthday and wedding,
whole ones on Christmas and New Year’s Eves,
even on Thanksgiving Day–pork,
fried, broiled or crispy skin roasted–
as well as cauldrons of black beans,
fried plantain chips and yuca con mojito.
These items required a special visit
to Antonio’s Mercado on the corner of 8th street
where men in guayaberas stood in senate
blaming Kennedy for everything–”Ese hijo de puta!”
the bile of Cuban coffee and cigar residue
filling the creases of their wrinkled lips;
clinging to one another’s lies of lost wealth,
ashamed and empty as hollow trees.

As a good friend of mine says when coming across things such as this… ya tú sabes.

15 thoughts on “Cuban American named poet for Obama inauguration”

  1. Pero fijense que tipo mas pesa’o! este De la Cruz! En ves de sentir orgullo por un compatriota honrado por nuestro presidente–se pone a criticarlo por sus opiniones politicas!—pero que tipo mas PESA’O!

  2. ahh the Cuban liberal poet…ignorant and unappreciative of this country…just like any other Liberal of course…

    “cigar residue filling the creases of their wrinkled lips” I wonder what fills Mr. Blanco’s wrinkled lips…”Ese hijo de puta!”

    Just saying!

  3. That explains why Mr. Blanco was selected for the Presidential inauguration…

    Another Cuban-American that dishes on its own, the type of Cuban-Americans liked by Obama and the liberals…

    I wonder if Mr. Blanco’s poetry would be any different if he had spend anytime inside Cuba’s famous UMAP camp…

  4. “I wonder what fills Mr. Blanco’s wrinkled lips”, oye, está fuerte… (Haahaha…)

    Otro Pitbull y Cristina Saralegui haciéndoles el favor, ya sea para promoverse ellos mismo ante los ojos de nuestros hermanos de Letrina America o porque son tontos útiles.

    Pretendiendo los muy populistas descarados de los Democratas que vamos a ser tan comemierdas como para votar por ellos porque se buscaron un portavoz cubano que no tiene nada coherente que decir respecto a política.

    Nosotros no votamos en base a idioma, nacionalidad, homosexualidad, o grupo étnico. Votamos en base a substancia política, económica, y principios.

    Pitbull se puede ir a seguir cantando su canción “Culo”, Cristina Saralegui a seguir engordando su culo, el poeta pato a seguir cogiendo bateo por el culo. Okay, que me importa un pito sus respaldos.

    By the way, Reinaldo Arenas may not have been a role model in what was the chaotic and promiscuous way he conducted his life but politically the man was as clear a Evian water and he did not subjugate nor went against his principles to serve the communist regime. That has to be respected.

  5. You are all so judgemental. I for one was inspired by Blanco’s “poetry” So much so that i wrote my own “poem”

    There were parties, lots of parties-
    Parties for everything
    And the parties would go on forever,
    Till three or four, sometimes till the next day!
    Tiá y Tió would dance and laugh all night
    Even though they had nothing and nothing to laugh about
    since they spent all their money sending Ricardito to catholic school-
    And he would sit alone in another room,
    ungrateful, brooding, loathing, despising the sounds, the smells, the visuals
    especially the women shaking their voluptuous Cuban behinds.¡Que asco!-
    he listened to Boy George and Wham on his Walkman,
    dreaming of the day when he could fly away from the sagüesera
    and be accepted by birds of his feather
    for loathing the strong roots
    that held the hollow trees where his nest had been.

  6. Gusano will become the first recipient of the Babalu award for poetry.

    His prize will be a twelve pack of his favorite brew…

  7. Ah, another one. Well, what’s one more? He has a certain “je ne sais quoi,” a Goldilocks García air, despite darker hair. No doubt Goldie will be on him like white on rice at the inaugural shindig (not to mention our Cretina, who’ll be there with bells on). And yes, Arenas comes to mind, not least because of his observation regarding Cuba and its disproportionately high quotient of, uh, problematic people, to put it very delicately. Arenas also said something which may well apply here, but it’s a little subtle and comes across better in Spanish: “Hay gente que porque sabe leer y escribir, cree que sabe leer y escribir.”

    I cannot resist being so prosaic as to state the obvious: if this Blanco were an indisputably great poet but not politically correct, he wouldn’t have gotten this gig, but the math is easy enough to do. Anyhow, here’s a bit of prose from a different Cuban poet:

    “What the poet of today ought to do is counsel people to care for each other, show the beauty of the world such that it appears in his verses as if he were painting it with colors, and punish with his poetry, as with a whip, those who want to deprive men of their freedom, or who steal the people’s money with roguish laws, or who want their countrymen to obey them like sheep and lick their hand like dogs.”

    That was written by José Martí. Alas, he was so atypical for a Cuban he may be beside the point.

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