Tuesday, May 27, 2014

One Blanco

If I like a book that I've read, I write a review (I can't help it.) Here's my latest review on the new Richard Blanco book For All Of Us One Today, which is a collection of poems and short chapters about his journey from Miami and Maine to the White House where he read his One Today poem for President Obama's inauguration ceremony in 2013.  I've read his other books including last year's Looking for The Gulf Motel.  There aren't many fellow gay Cuban-American authors who've made it big so I'm happy to share his work.

If Richard Blanco's poem One Today were a featured movie, then his follow up "For All Of Us, One Today'' is the bonus feature that you get at the end of the DVD. In this new collection, Blanco charts his journey from professional engineer/poet engineer to the phone call he received in late 2012 when he was asked to pen a poem for President Barack Obama's 2013 inauguration. Blanco gives his readers a behind-the-scenes peek at how he constructed three poems for the president in three weeks and the story behind each one. With humor, he describes the swirl of emotions, from honor and pride to anxiety and fear in accomplishing the task and possible reasons why he may have been chosen. 

 "I was the youngest, first openly gay, first immigrant and first Latino inaugural poet. And the list can go on and one with other firsts that weren't really highlighted: first engineer, first Floridian, first Mainer, first poet with bushy eyebrows - wait, I think Frost may have beat me on that one!" 

But it's the intimate details that ground the book, moments that haven't been told in his radio and TV interviews; how he holed up himself in his Bethel, Maine home where he sat in his kitchen writing each of the poems; how his partner Mark would scribble loving notes and suggestions in the margins of the rough drafts as he slept and how Blanco preferred his second poem "Mother Country'' over "One Today'' because it felt more personal and sounded more like his other poems about biculturalism and what and where home is.

 In "Mother Country,'' he channeled his mother's emotional journey from Cuba to Spain and New York to Miami to tell the story of all Americans. Another moving detail: how his partner suggested that Blanco's mom sit at the platform of the Capitol during the inauguration instead of him. "She won't fully understand the poem I will read about America to America in English, but she doesn't have to. She is the poem; she is America," Blanco writes. Once the White House committee chose "One Today," Blanco practiced delivering the speech wherever he could, from strolling down the aisles of his grocery store to driving his car to the post office. He even practiced behind a makeshift podium out of cardboard on the deck of his home. His audience of one: a snowman. "Read to the snowman," his partner insisted. "You should rehearse outside. Feel what it's going to feel like."

 It's those small personal moments that will resonate with readers because they provide another layer to Blanco, his home life. And in sharing his journey, Blanco also brings his closest relatives, friends and loved ones along so that readers could see how much love and support the poet had from writing the poem and delivering it on national TV to the reception he received after from legions of everyday Americans, White House officials and celebrities (even Beyonce.) 

In that way, "For All Of Us, One Today'' is a big thank you to the unsung Team Blanco including the Maine inn keepers who provided a private room for his media interviews and the salon owner who gave him and his partner a free makeover before heading to Washington D>C. As Blanco humbly writes in the book, "I wanted Americans to embrace each other. But I hadn't expected that America would embrace me and that the poem would be gifted back to me in such a way." 

One small critique: The book(let) is about 100 pages long. I felt it should have been longer.

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