Richard Blanco is the easygoing, thoughtful writer who touched so many with his poem, "One Today," which he read at the 2013 Obama Inauguration. He drew wide praise for his inaugural poem, which paid homage to the American experience. The son of Cuban exiles, he was born in Spain and grew up in New York City and Miami, training and working as a civil engineer. His work reflects questions about our personal journeys, where we belong, and how we fit in this world.
On Monday, March 3, at 7:30 p.m., Blanco will read at the Mountain Avenue Theatre in Ashland. His visit is made possible through the efforts of the nonprofit Chautauqua Poets and Writers board, who arrange for well-regarded writers and poets to visit the Rogue Valley and share their work. Amy MacLennan, one of the Chautauqua board members, says Blanco is an ideal writer for the series. "Richard Blanco's poems tell stories unique to him, but they also resonate with every reader. His work describes his childhood as a quiet hunger that everyone can understand. This poet has addressed an entire nation, and this promises to be a unique experience," she said.
Blanco's collection, "Looking for the Gulf Motel," is easy to dive into, a series of poems and prose that explore the author's Cuban heritage, identity, family and growing into manhood. I had intended to skim the book, but I ended up on my sofa losing track of time and reading until the end. Loosely divided into three sections, the first part of the book focuses on his family and childhood. In the title poem, "Looking for the Gulf Motel," Blanco remembers the family vacation spot of his childhood. He writes:
"My father should still be in a terrycloth
smoking, clinking a glass of amber
in the sunset at the Gulf Motel,
dive into the pool,
two boys he'll never see
grow into men who will be proud of
The second part focuses on being gay and the expectations of maleness in his family. The poems, however, speak broadly. With clear language, he paints a picture of struggles common to many. In the poem, "Queer Theory: According to My Grandmother," Blanco writes in the voice of his grandmother telling him how to be more manly.
"Don't draw rainbows or flowers or sunsets. I've seen you... Where are your Hot Wheels, your laser gun and handcuffs, the knives I gave you?"
The last part of the book explores love and loss and the heartbreak of watching your loved ones age and die. The poems are beautiful and balanced, the kind one reads aloud to friends and family.
Blanco is a poet for all of us, and this is a rare opportunity to hear this excellent poet read and discuss his work in person. The audience will have an opportunity to ask questions about his work, his inaugural experience, or what it means to be an American, a public voice, or the first Latino immigrant and gay writer bestowed with such an honor.
"Richard Blanco draws a crowd," said Chautauqua's MacLennan. "I strongly suggest getting tickets early. He appeals to so many people and we are delighted to have him."
Reserved seats are $20, general tickets are $15 and students $12. Tickets can be purchased at Bloomsbury Books and Bookwagon or online at www.ChautauquaWriters.org. For more information visit the website or call 541-482-3632.
In addition to his public reading, Blanco is scheduled to teach workshops with students and teachers from throughout the Rogue Valley. He will be interviewed Monday, March 3, at 9 a.m. on Jefferson Public Radio's Jefferson Exchange.
Angela Decker is a freelance writer in Ashland and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.