WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: Poet Richard Blanco speaks at the podium at the U.S. Capitol building as Washington prepares for U.S. President Barack Obama's second inauguration on January 20, 2013 in Washington, DC. Both Obama and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will be officially sworn in today with a public ceremony for the President taking place on January 21. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)2013 Getty Images
So many things have changed for Richard Blanco since he was named the 2013 presidential inauguration poet.
Even poetry has changed for the Cuban-American.
Blanco, 45, found that his selection as the poet for President Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremony catapulted him onto a bigger stage. Not just on that day, but since then.
So Blanco is blending his art with activism, and availing himself of speaking engagements to heighten awareness about, and lend support to, issues that are special to him – like same-sex marriage and immigration reform.
“That moment opened up opportunities for me to speak about all these issues,” said Blanco, who lives in Maine with his partner of 12 years. “It’s an opportunity to tell our story, as the son of immigrants, a living example of these things. I’ve been speaking to groups, reading poetry in front of these groups, LGBT groups.”
When he read his poetry at the inauguration, he joined the ranks of legends like Maya Angelou and Robert Frost.
“In many ways, this is the very stuff of the American Dream, which underlies so much of my work and my life’s story —America’s story, really,” Blanco said of his selection as inaugural poet at the time. “I am thrilled by the thought of coming together during this great occasion to celebrate our country and its people through the power of poetry.”
Blanco‘s selection marked several firsts. He was the first Hispanic, gay and the youngest person to be chosen as the inaugural poet.
On Monday, Blanco met with Obama aides at the White House, where he later had a 30-minute meeting with the president.
With the staffers, Blanco spoke about the importance of same-sex marriage laws and the inclusion of gay couples in immigration reform measures.
He feels driven to “telling my story” as a member of the gay and Latino communities, he said, to help bolster support for policies and laws that can benefit both groups.
“Art and political issues, social issues, can go hand in hand,” Blanco said.
Pushing for gay and immigrant and Latino issues, he said, is at once “selfish and altruistic.”
His meeting with President Obama was, simply, surreal, Blanco said.
“It was a very emotional and heartfelt meeting,” he said, “an eye-to-eye, heart-to-heart experience.”
They ended up speaking about poetry the entire time, and the president proved himself well-versed in the genre, Blanco said. In fact, the president spoke about poetry slams he’s had at the White House.
Obama came across as accessible, down-to-earth and personable, Blanco said. The poet gave him a laminated copy of the poem he had penned for the inauguration, and the President placed it in a den he has just off the Oval Office.
“He told me that it’s where he keeps more personal things, the things that are more close to his heart,” he said.
Blanco also used his time in Washington to stop by the office of the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for LBGT rights, to read his poetry.
Later this month, Blanco will take part in a May 30 benefit concert for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings. Blanco will pen a poem for the occasion, which will feature artists such as James Taylor.
"I'm supposed to deliver the poem at the beginning of the concert," Blanco said, "it will set the tone. It will honor and mourn the people of that day, and also recognize the triumph and strength that came out of all of this."
The new sense of purpose and the meeting with the president hold great meaning for Blanco.
"It brings me full circle, it's a culmination of a lot of what I felt that moment in the inauguration," he said. "I'm loving it. I'm speaking from the heart in a broader voice, connecting spiritually and emotionally with America, in the tradition of Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsburg, who spoke about America and the things they wanted to protest, in a grander voice."
Elizabeth Llorente can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on https://twitter.com/Liz_Llorente