Residents react to inaugural poet among them
“Who even knew that Richard Blanco was a poet?” said Bonnie Pooley of Bethel. “I knew him as a Planning Board member and an engineer. Then, suddenly, he was a poet chosen by Barack Obama to read at the 2013 Presidential Inauguration. Like many, I'm guessing, I went immediately to the Internet to see what poems I could find by him. Having read several of his poems, I am hooked.
"I hope that we who live in Bethel can be proud of his sudden fame while respecting his privacy, which must be partly why he chose our town to live in and to do his work.”
In a few days Blanco will stand on the steps at the U.S. Capitol and read a poem he wrote especially for the second inauguration ceremony of President Obama.
Blanco was selected for the honor in mid-December by the president’s Inaugural Committee, which made the announcement last Wednesday.
The poet has been asked to refrain from press interviews for now.
In a press release from the committee, Blanco was quoted as saying, "I’m beside myself, bestowed with this great honor, brimming over with excitement, awe, and gratitude. In many ways, this is the very 'stuff' of the American Dream, which underlies so much of my work and my life’s story—America’s story, really. I am thrilled by the thought of coming together during this great occasion to celebrate our country and its people through the power of poetry."
Blanco moved to Bethel with his partner in 2009.
Although Blanco is not yet available for interviews, local residents were happy to share their reactions on hearing of his choice.
He is a client of Bethel hair stylist Holly Roberts, who said he had been to her "We've Got the Look" salon a number of times before she realized he was a serious poet. She now has a copy of one of his books at the salon, and she’s been reading poems from it aloud to clients.
“Five of my clients bought it online last week,” she said. “I think his poetry is different – people can relate to it.”
Other people have had similar reactions to his work.
"I was lucky enough at a get-together at Richard's home here in Bethel, to have the opportunity to hear him read a handful of his writings,” Tony Andrews of Bethel wrote by e-mail. “I prepared myself to deal with the awkwardness of reacting positively to something that I was sure I probably would not appreciate, but as luck would have it, there was no need to fake a response.
"As cliché as it sounds, he took us through the full spectrum of emotional responses in about a five-minute span.”
Jewel Clark of Bethel said she also met Blanco at a gathering a few months ago when, “fortunately for me and other guests that evening, he was persuaded to read a few of his poems.
“Having almost no true understanding of poetry throughout my life, I was both surprised and delighted that in those moments it didn’t matter because I simply “got it”!
Afterward, she said, “I even found myself attempting to recite phrases from memory to those I felt would appreciate them. I’ve found Richard to not only be wonderfully creative, but also humble, gracious, devoted to his public service positions here in Bethel, and perhaps my personal favorite, hilarious.”
Rosemary McLean of Bethel said she saw the announcement about Blanco in the New York Times. “One of our neighbors reading an original work at the inaugural ceremony. Wow! This served as a reminder of the rich talent and varied experiences of so many who live in the Bethel community,” she said.
Kirk Siegel of Bethel had a similar sentiment. “I was surprised by the announcement, because I only knew of Richard as a Planning Board member, but now see he has been published in all kinds of literary journals,” he said. “It’s a great reminder that the American small town continues to be a vital part of our culture.”
Pok Sun Lane of Bethel emphasized Blanco’s affection for his adopted town.
“He really cares about people, and he really loves this town,” she said.
For more on Blanco, see his website at http://richard-blanco.com.
“Thicker Than Country”
A Cuban like me living in Maine? Well,
what the hell, Mark loves his native snow
and I don’t mind it, really. I love icicles,
even though I still decorate the house
with seashells and starfish. Sometimes
I want to raise chickens and pigs, wonder
if I could grow even a small mango tree
in my three-season porch. But mostly,
I’m happy with hemlocks and birches
towering over the house, their shadows
like sundials, the cool breeze blowing
even in the summer. ...
(“Thicker Than Country” is from Looking for The
Gulf Motel, by Richard Blanco, © 2012. Reprinted by permission of the author and the University of