It was announced this week that Richard Blanco will serve as the 2013 inaugural poet and now must compose and read a new poem for the president’s ceremonial swearing-in on the steps of the Capitol on Jan. 21. The New York Times has a great article about the poet and his reoccurring themes of place, identity, and his Latino heritage. In the article, Addie Whisenant, the inaugural committee’s spokeswoman, said President Obama picked Mr. Blanco because the poet’s “deeply personal poems are rooted in the idea of what it means to be an American.”
I only discovered Blanco’s work very recently, after the poetry organization Split This Rock published its list of the best poetry books of 2012. Blanco’s latest collection, Looking for the Gulf Motel, made the list. I got a copy for Christmas and devoured it in one or two sittings. I’m currently in the process of writing a review of it for Poets’ Quarterly. Based on Blanco’s work, I feel he is a wonderful pick to read at the president’s inauguration. Obama won re-election with a diverse coalition, especially the Latino vote. Blanco, who was conceived in Cuba, born in Spain, and raised and educated in Miami, is representative of the changing demographics of the United States, a change that helped get Obama elected twice. Like the president, Blanco is of mixed heritage, and his poems address that, often incorporating lines of Spanish in the stanzas.
Blanco is the fifth inaugural poet. The tradition was started when John F. Kennedy asked Robert Frost to read in January 1961. The tradition was picked up again in the 1990s when Bill Clinton selected Maya Angelou. I’ve posted some videos below from the inaugurations, including an audio recording of Frost reading the inaugural poem “The Gift Outright” and Elizabeth Alexander reading “Praise Song for the Day” from President Obama’s first inauguration in 2009.