The poet Richard Blanco spoke to an audience of approximately 60 students, alumni and community members yesterday afternoon at the 12th John Holmes Memorial Poetry Reading in the Hirsch Reading Room of Tisch Library. During the talk, Blanco, President Barack Obama’s inaugural poet in 2013 and the fifth inaugural poet in U.S. history, read poetry from throughout his career and spoke about his life as a Cuban-American immigrant.
The John Holmes Memorial Poetry Reading is held annually in honor of the late Professor of Poetry and Literature John Holmes (A ’29). Past speakers at the event have included Joan Houlihan and Major Jackson. This year, the event also honored Holmes’ second wife, poet Doris Holmes Eyges, who passed away in February.
Poet and Tufts Professor of the Practice Natalie Shapero introduced Blanco, who is the first gay man, the first Latino and the youngest person to receive the honor of delivering an inaugural poem, according to his website.
Following the introduction, Blanco took the podium to begin his talk, which was accompanied by a slideshow presentation. In between anecdotes about his childhood, family and career, Blanco read six of his original poems, including “Betting on America” and his inaugural piece “One Today,” along with reading two poems written by Holmes.
Blanco said that his journey to becoming the inaugural poet began with an obsession with the idea of “home.”
“By the time I was 45 days old, I had lived in three different countries,” he said, referring to his birthplace in Madrid, Spain as well as the United States, where his family moved shortly after, and Cuba, where he was conceived.
Growing up in Miami, Fla., a city with a significant population Cuban immigrants, Blanco said he never really felt he was living in America, a country he felt more connected to while watching TV shows such as “The Brady Bunch.”
He explained that his experiences “living in between two imagined realities” of the “Cuba of [his] parents’ nostalgia” and the America “north of the Florida-Georgia line” contributed to his search for belonging.
Blanco said he found that sense of belonging while delivering the inaugural poem.
“I’ve found a new sense of patriotism beyond your stock, flag-waving patriotism,” he said. “My mother, who had grown up on a dirt floor in Cuba, sitting that close to the president … in that moment, I felt my whole experience embraced.”
Along with sharing his personal life experiences, Blanco also discussed his writing process and how he strives to make his poetry “accessible” without losing a deep personal connection to it.
Blanco also discussed his career as an engineer, explaining that he disagrees with people who think the field does not fit with poetry.
“For me, whether I’m designing a bridge or writing a poem, the same juices are flowing,” he said. “It’s so silly to me the way we silo education. To me, it’s all connected.”
The reading was followed by a Q&A session, as well as a book signing sponsored by the Tufts University Bookstore.