|PHOTO: CNN SCREEN SHOT
By Kathleen Archambeau
â€śI would say that poetry is the place we go to when we donâ€™t have any more words.â€ť (POETS. org)
Youngest and Only Immigrant
Gay Inaugural Poet
Geysa Blanco never imagined her youngest son, Richard, who was born in Spain and raised in Miami of Cuban immigrant parents, would grow up to read a poem at a U.S. presidentâ€™s inauguration. President Obama selected Richard Blanco, as reported in the New York Times, because his â€śdeeply personal poems are rooted in the idea of what it means to be an American.â€ť
On January 21, 2013, this gay 44 year-old Cuban American took to the stage and captured the hearts of Americans with his poem, â€śOne Today.â€ť Its words included: â€śOne sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores...One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.â€ť
The dimpled poet went on: â€śMy face, your face, millions of faces in morningâ€™s mirrors.â€ť He continued, â€śOne ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat and handsâ€¦hands as worn as my fatherâ€™s cutting sugarcane so my brother and I could have books and shoes.â€ť
Blanco is everyman. He grew up in an extended family of abuelos and abuelas, tias and tios. Fulfilling his immigrant parentsâ€™ dreams, he became a civil engineer. He still works on contract for the City of Miami as a professional engineer, though some call him the poet engineer. After living in Guatemala and Brazil, he settled with his partner of 12 years, Dr. Mark Neveu, in Bethel, Maine. The quiet of nature suits the writerâ€™s life Blanco has developed in his three years of living in Maine. The award-winning poet has authored several collections, such as Looking for Gulf Motel (2012), Directions to the Beach of the Dead (2005) and City of a Hundred Fires (1998), paean to his parentsâ€™ birthplace in Cuba, Cienfuegos.
Blanco came to writing poetry late in life, writing â€śpretty bad poems,â€ť at age 23 or 24. He lived the life of a straight man until age 25, navigating between Cuban and American culture, engineering and poetry. For this working class son of immigrants, writing was accessible.
He explained, â€śYou can pick up a piece of paper and a pen and write. You donâ€™t have to go buy brushes and a can of paint to express your creativity.â€ť
Ironically, the first poem Blanco was asked to write in an MFA program was on the theme of â€śAmerica,â€ť in which he says, â€śBy seven I had grown suspicious â€“ we were still here. Overheard conversations about returning had grown wistful and less frequent. I spoke English; my parents didnâ€™t.â€ť
Of his latest collection, Looking for the Gulf Motel (2012), Blanco sees the work as covering the â€śgenealogy of the lost,â€ť and affords him a chance to â€śexplore how my familyâ€™s emotional legacy has shaped and continues to shape me.â€ť His fatherâ€™s death, the death of an entire generation and his motherâ€™s exile, remind Blanco of â€śmy own impermanence in the world and the permanence of loss.â€ť