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Inauguration Poet In St. Louis To Talk About Growing Up, Home And Poetry

Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

Poet Richard Blanco is best known for “One Today,” the poem he wrote and read at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration in 2013. Blanco was the first Latino, first immigrant and first openly gay writer to be commissioned as an inaugural poet.

“They never mention first engineer,” Blanco told “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh last week. For now, though, Blanco says he doesn’t mind the labels. “For the moment, I think they’re important things to be said,” he said. “And not said about me, but as I’ve learned these past 18 months, to be said because there are a lot of people who need to hear that, so to speak.”

In addition to poetry, Blanco has written a memoir about his childhood, “The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood.” Blanco will discuss and read from his book tonight at the St. Louis County Library Headquarters.

“I think I was obsessed, perhaps even before I was born, with this whole idea of home,” Blanco said. “All of my work and my poetry in some ways revolves around everything that that loaded word implies about family, our connection to place, about belonging, about homecoming. All that started at childhood.”

Blanco’s mother emigrated from Cuba to Spain when she was seven months pregnant. Blanco was born in Spain, and the family moved to New York when he was 45 days old. He grew up in Miami.

“They say every writer, ever artist is writing one poem all their lives or painting one canvas all their lives,” Blanco said. “Figuratively, of course, that means that we’re always revolving around that obsession — trying to dimension it in some way; trying to ask questions about it, trying to answer some questions, ask new questions; look at it inside out, upside down. In some ways, it’s the subject of art because there is no final answer. Home is a complex thing that is completely evolving. Becoming is something that never stops.”

In addition to the idea of home, Blanco’s book also addresses childhood and growing up, a universal experience.

“When I try to write, I always try to get to that core truth or that core emotion,” he said. “You try to tell the story to figure it out for yourself, but it’s also in some ways a shared universal experience that you’re shooting for.”

The engineer-turned-poet wants people to be open to including poetry in those experiences.

“We don’t have such a great experience with poetry in middle school and moving on to high school,” he said. “It’s OK to not like poetry, but you should know why you don’t like poetry. Do you watch a movie you don’t like and say ‘I’m never going to see a movie again’? Or read a novel you don’t like and say ‘I’m never going to read a novel again’?

“With poetry, somehow, there’s this sense in America that it’s poetry with a capital P and it’s this monolithic thing and it’s just one thing and we hate it. It comes down to not having the right experience with it because when you do have that right experience with it, it completely changes.”

Related Event

Richard Blanco, “The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood”

  • When: 7 p.m. Nov. 3, 2014. Doors open at 6 p.m. Seating is limited; early arrival is recommended.
  • Where: St. Louis County Library Headquarters, 1640 S. Lindbergh Blvd., St. Louis

St. Louis on the Air discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.

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