Inauguration poet Blanco wows crowd

Oct. 13, 2013 @ 10:19 PM

Inauguration poet Richard Blanco shared his poetry and the inspiration behind it Sunday night in Carolina Theatre in downtown Durham.

Before a full house, the poet talked about his mixed ancestry and how it has influenced his writing and his quest for personal identity.

“I was made in Cuba, assembled in Spain and imported to the United States,” he said.

As a library page in Dade County, Florida, Blanco said, he gained a love for learning.

“It was a way that I learned about opera, it’s the way that I learned about my homeland, Cuba. It’s how I learned about Picasso.”

The youngest and first Latino openly gay poet, Blanco has authored three books including “Looking for the Gulf Motel” and “City of a Hundred Fires.”. The free event was presented by the Durham County Library and Durham Technical Community College, with several sponsors including Dos Perros, the North Carolina Central University LGBTA Resource Center, El Centro Hispano and Old Havana sandwich shop.

Prior to the reading, the public could speak directly to the poet at a reception. A fee for the reception went to the Durham Library Foundation’s Campaign for the Library.

An architect and poet, Blanco said he views poetry as a mirror to help people learn about themselves as well as others.

“I’m looking at my life but you’re also looking at my life and your life,” he said. “The origins of poetry come back to this very moment. We’re coming together to tell each other stories.”

Blanco’s poetry explores “this idea of where do I belong? Where is home? Who am I?”

“These questions, I think we’ve all asked these questions of ourselves,” said Blanco. “They’re universal questions.”

Blanco said that as a child he thought that America was what he saw on television, “The Brady Bunch” and “I Dream of Jeanie,” and he created an imaginary, wonderful paradise in his head.

Describing his first trip to Cuba, Blanco said that his first thoughts were “here’s the other half of me,” noting that it was like “visiting a twin.”

“You feel at home but not quite one hundred percent,” he described. “This idea that if I can’t have either of these places, I’ll spread my search for home began.”

Several of Blanco’s poems are about his mother, her courage and faith, he said, that empowered her to leave her entire family in Cuba to move to Florida with her husband and children.

Among those at the reading was Katherine O’Brien, who said that she saw the value of the event beyond just the sharing of emotions and ideas.

“I think it’s a nice way to thread a connection together,” O’Brien said. “In these times when there’s so much conflict, it’s good to have words that are positive and that remind us that we all have a story to tell.”