The White House announced Wednesday morning that the poet Richard Blanco, who has lived in Bethel since 2009, would be the featured poet at Barack Obama’s 2013 Inauguration. Blanco’s personal friend, University of Maine Museum of Art executive director and curator George Kinghorn, called Blanco and his partner Mark to offer his congratulations, but said the poet had been swamped with media attention and well-wishers alike.
“As you can imagine, it’s (quite busy) there,” said Kinghorn, who brought Blanco to UMMA in Bangor in January 2009 for a reading. “It’s a really important thing, not just for Richard, obviously, but for America.”
Blanco, a civil engineer who is also vice chairman of Bethel’s planning board, is the first immigrant, the first Latino, and the first gay man to be named as the Inaugural Poet, one of the most high-profile honors a poet can receive. When President Obama is inaugurated for a second time on Monday, Jan. 21, Blanco will read a new, original poem to celebrate the occasion. He is the fifth inaugural poet overall, following in the footsteps of John F. Kennedy’s choice, Robert Frost, Bill Clinton’s pick, Maya Angelou and Obama’s previous pick, Elizabeth Alexander.
Kinghorn’s friendship with Blanco stretches back to the days when they both lived in Florida. When Kinghorn moved to Maine in late 2008 to take on the position of director and curator of the University of Maine Museum of Art in Bangor, he asked Blanco to come to the museum and give a reading, in conjunction with Blanco and artist John Bailly’s visual-poetic collaboration, “Place of Mind,” which was on display there at that time. In the midst of Blanco’s visit to Bangor, the poet let his friend know a little secret – that he’d be moving to Maine as well. Bethel, to be exact, near Sunday River Ski Resort.
“We traveled together, we’ve collaborated,” said Kinghorn. “When he came up in January 2009 to do the reading, he said to me, ‘Well, you’ve moved to Maine, and guess what? We waited to tell you until we got here, and now we can tell you that we are, too.’ It was a nice surprise.”
Pushcart Prize-winning poet Spencer Reece said Blanco’s most recent book, “Looking for the Gulf Motel,” is imminently memorable, according to a quote on Blanco’s website.
“W. H. Auden, asked to define poetry from the other written arts, wrote that poetry was ‘memorable speech.’ Richard Blanco’s speech invites the reader in with its search for home,” said Reece. “His lyrics open doors onto his Cuban immigrant family, his father’s early death, and his own migration from a life in Florida to a life in Maine. His speech houses a generous love of others and a persistent reach for what is absent. There is nothing here you will not remember.”
According to a New York Times article, Blanco found out about his appointment on Dec. 12 and he kept the news secret from nearly everyone, including his mother, while working steadily from his Bethel home on the poem that he will read on the 21st. Kinghorn said he’s not surprised that President Obama found Blanco’s poetry moving and inspiring. They share many common ideals, and the ideas and topics Blanco writes about in his poetry resonate in a big way with the problems facing contemporary America.
“There are certain passages that deal with the economic reality so many people in this country are facing… the idea that you want to create a better life for your children. There’s also this sense, in his poetry, of the continually evolving search for self, as an American, an immigrant, a gay man,” said Kinghorn. “He’s able to conjure up such vivid sensory images, talking specifically about his Cuban American background. I think it resonates on a lot of different levels for a lot of different people.”
President Obama’s 2013 Inauguration is set for the morning on Monday, Jan. 21, in Washington, D.C. To read poems by Richard Blanco, visit http://richard-blanco.com. Three new exhibitions will open at UMMA on Jan. 17, including “Michael Crouser: Dog Run,” “Robert Rivers: The Promised Land” and “Candice Ivy: Honey From the Belly of the Lion.”