NORWAY — The words coming from the poet at the lectern  — some hushed, others in a dash to the finish line — were picked up by the audience as though imagination could impart meaning just by sitting, silently, ever so still.

Telling stories rich in a nostalgia that often blurred the lines between identities past and present, Richard Blanco delivered anecdotes from his past during a evening of poetry at the packed Second Congregational Church United Church of Christ Friday. 

Born in Madrid and raised by exiled Cuban-Americans in Miami, Blanco achieved a series of firsts when he read at President Obama’s inauguration in 2013: the youngest, the first Latino, the first immigrant and the first openly gay poet named inaugural poet. 

But as much as he earned famed during his “One Today” speech in Washington so too in Norway was Blanco at his storyteller’s best, regarding the mostly older crowd sitting in the pews curved around the stage as the “collective campfire” sharing similarities, not differences. 

On full display was what Norway Library Director Beth Kane called Blanco’s ease in “enriching the human spirit,” filling the gaps that separate people of vastly different backgrounds by touching universal issues. 

Every writer, he began, is driven to obsession by a topic that contours each work to its theme. 

For him, it’s home. 

“It’s an obsession that began even before I was born. As I like to say, ‘I was made in Cuba, I was assembled to Spain and I was imported to the United States,” Blanco said. 

Now splitting his time between Bethel and Boston, Blanco, 47, grew up in Miami where he heard what he came to regard as near-mythical stories from his parents about Cuba, their homeland.

Clicking through slides of himself growing up, each accompanied by vignettes that brought laughter from the audience, Blanco said he explored the everyday myths of their past that made Cuba “imaginary and untouchable.”

“Growing up in Miami was like growing up in two imaginary worlds. One was the world of parents, grandparents and the community at large set in 1950’s Cuba,”  he said.

The other was an America evoked through pop culture and TV shows like “The Brady Brunch” or, the topic of one poem, the symbolism of cooking the American turkey for Thanksgiving rather than his parent’s traditional meal of pork. 

One poem reads like an epic journey through a supermarket where he hopes to win his grandmother over to buy him this country’s identity-confirming foods: Oreos, chicken and a can of spray cheese. 

“I was finally an American.” 

But that feeling wouldn’t come until much later, Blanco said, after he had moved to Bethel where the natural setting helped his “emotional and physical landscape” mesh. 

In a poem about  his mother Blanco told the harrowing upheaval of fleeing one’s homeland, and his mother’s adoption of hard-work in America, which he compared to, “love a country as though you’ve lost one.” 

Art, especially written works like poetry, have a mirror quality to them that allows the author and reader to share an emotional bond, Blanco said. In part, that feeling gave him anxiety before delivering the inaugural speech; did he have the emotional authority to write a poem about America? 

He recounted how, before delivering his inaugural poem his mother turned to him and said, “You know, it isn’t where you’re born, it’s where you choose to die. That’s your country.” 

Bill Hanger of Waterford remembered watching Robert Frost deliver a poem at John Kennedy’s inauguration, and watched in person Maya Angelou in 1993 do the same for Bill Clinton. For him and Nancy, the evening was a chance to meet another poet they admired.

“When we learned about his Bethel connection, it was astonishing.”

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