Cuban-American poet Richard Blanco has worked most of his life as a civil engineer but later earned acclaim for his poetry collections, including City of a Hundred Fires (University of Pittsburg Press, 1998) and Looking for the Gulf Motel (University of Pittsburg Press, 2012) before being selected to read his poem "One Today" at the 2013 Presidential Inauguration. He will give a poetry reading at the Herron School of Art and Design's Basile Auditorium on April 10 at 7:30 p.m. The event is part of the Rufus & Louise Reiberg Reading Series.
Did you sleep at all the night before you read “One Today” at President Obama’s second inauguration?
Actually, I did. I had a beautiful moment where I was going over the poem one more time in my hotel room, and I fell asleep with it against my heart. I was very much at peace going into the reading.
What single memory stands out the most about the experience?
When I got up to read the poem, both President Obama and Vice President Biden stood up to shake my hand. It was a true sign of respect for my work as a poet. I thought, “These guys have my back.”
How has your role as a poet changed since the inauguration?
Reading at the inauguration reconfirmed for me just how powerful poetry can be for so many people across the country. Poets in every single city and state are connecting through the written word. Even more than before, I want to keep that connection alive and bring even more people to poetry. It’s almost as if I’m evangelizing through my writing and converting more readers to poetry.
Has your Cuban-American family made peace with American food?
Well, sort of. My mother will roast a turkey for the holidays. But last Thanksgiving I caught her taking a pork shoulder out of the oven, as well. “Just in case,” she said.
What’s a Miami guy doing living in Maine?
I always say that I took a wrong turn on I-95 and ended up in New England instead of Florida. Actually, my partner’s work took us there, but the move from a big city has given me more peace of mind to work as a writer. But I still miss Florida.
What’s the first thing you eat when you go back to Miami?
I love pastelitos, puff pastries filled with guava or cheese. I grab one at the airport before I even pick up my bags.
Boston Red Sox or Miami Marlins?
I’ve got so many scars from little league! I’d have to say the Red Sox now. I read my poem “Boston Strong” at Fenway Park, and I was reminded of the rich heritage and culture of baseball in America.