Home. Place. Belonging. These are the three words poet Richard Blanco repeated during his June 11th talk in Lousiville at the Convention Center. Blanco, President Obama’s inaugaural poet who penned the very popular “One Today,” described how he became a poet, how he . . . became. He did not start out as a poet, and, in fact, still works as a civil engineer, the career he trained for. But civil engineering report-writing took him to poetry and poetry took him . . . back to home.
Blanco asked, “What is home to you?” This question has propelled his writing life. Memories of his mother, grandmother, father, and brother, filled with grainy Polaroids from the 70’s, highlighted the talk, interspersed with Blanco’s characteristically sensory-rich poetry of object, place, family and harmony.
He joked about one photo featuring a vinyl green couch which he said was an “Ode to My Plastic-Covered Sofa” and described his grandmother in loving, ornery detail as a woman who shunned the Winn Dixie as being elitist and who was good at backward compliments, such as, “I love what you did with your hair . . . finally.”
He read his poem “Mother Country,” which ends with the beautiful lines in his own mother’s voice:
” . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. You know, mijo,
it isn’t where you’re born that matters, it’s where
you choose to die–that’s your country.”
I had just read Blanco’s memoir of being chosen as the inaugural poet–the process and the poems that came from it–For All of Us, One Today (which I highly recommend for anyone interested at all in the power and the call of poetry)–before the event, and ideas of poetry’s place in our world were uppermost in my mind. It is the reason I started the Rural Okalhoma Museum of Poetry (ROMP), after all—to keep expanding that place in the lives of people from all walks of life.
Near the end of the memoir, Blanco said that he makes a “conscious commitment to keep connecting America with poetry and reshape how we think about it.” During the Q&A, I got to ask him about how he is doing that. He responded that one way was talking to the audience he had right then: A roomful of teachers, all of us in the city to grade AP exams for a week.
Children, we can hope, are first exposed to poetry at home–through riddles and rhymes, wordplay and narrative poems, songs and nonsense poems. Children are poets. And then . . . something happens. The reading and writing of poetry gets lost in the way that so many schools compose their curriculum, divorcing this essential journey with words from its natural place–which is in every aspect of our lives.
ROMP exists to remind people of all ages that poetry is essential to their lives. IT IS ESSENTIAL. It is still the best form of communication for reminding us of our common humanity and our need for home, for place, for belonging.
Thank you, Mr. Blanco.