Richard Blanco, the fifth inaugural poet of the United States, shared stories of his life through his poems with a Franklin & Marshall College audience on March 27 and urged students to "give poetry a place in your life."
Blanco spoke during Common Hour, the College community's discussion held every Thursday during the academic year.
In 2013, Blanco delivered an original poem, "For All of Us, One Today," at President Barack Obama's second inauguration. Blanco, who was born in Spain, where his Cuban parents had lived briefly before immigrating to the United States, used his poetry to share aspects of his life and describe "the emotional road to the podium in Washington, D.C."
Growing up in Miami's insular Cuban-exile community, the 46-year-old Blanco said America and Cuba became imaginary worlds for him. He gleaned information about both by watching television. He addressed this with his poem "Betting on America," about watching as a child with his family the Miss America Pageant.
"Americans all have skinny butts," he recited, his verse detailing who in the family was voting for which contestant. He ended the verse with the winner of the pageant getting crowned: "The queen of our country, and our land of the free … though no one bet on her."
The endings of the poems Blanco read to the audience in Mayser Gymnasium were thought provoking, said junior Charlotte Briggs. The American Studies and Women and Gender Studies major particularly liked the final lines of "Mother Country," in which Blanco describes his mother's immigrant experience:
It isn't where you're born that matters, it's where you choose to die -- that's your country.
"I thought it was a very interesting take on what it means to be an American," Briggs said. "His poems' endings are very poignant."
Blanco, who was a civil engineer before he went back to school to study poetry, said his work asks the universal questions about who he is and where he's from while exploring the experiences in his life that have molded him.
"I think all of us in some shape or form ask ourselves those questions," Blanco said. "That's what my work is centered on."
Axel Ntwari, a first-year student from Burundi, said he related to Blanco's poetry.
"I'm an international student. This is my first time in this country, and I've had this conflict with who I am and where I'm from," he said.
The poems Blanco read are in his books “City of a Hundred Fires,” “Directions to the Beach of the Dead” and “Looking for the Gulf Motel.”
Before reading "Queer Theory According to My Grandmother," Blanco explained that in his sexual awakening he realized his grandmother described anything that was culturally odd to her to as "gay, weird or queer."
"Avoid hugging men, but if you must, pat them real hard on the back," he recited, and in another verse, "For God's sake, never pee sitting down ... I've seen you."
Blanco concluded by reading "For All of Us, One Today," the inaugural poem. The final verse:
We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always -- home, always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop and every window, of one country -- all of us -- facing the stars hope -- a new constellation waiting for us to map it, waiting for us to name it -- together.