Our People, Our Future: Richard Blanco on His Inaugural Poem
Poets.org: To prepare for your writing the inaugural poem, have you studied the inaugural poems by Robert Frost, Miller Williams, Maya Angelou or Elizabeth Alexander? Or, have you reached out to any of those poets (still living) for advice?
Richard Blanco: Yes, I have looked mostly at Angelou’s poem, and then Alexander’s poem, too. I see this position as not only being about writing my own poem for the nation, but also keeping a certain sense of continuity, and so their poems were some of the first places I went to—looking at how they quote/unquote solved the occasional poem.
But I also went back to a poem by a friend and colleague of mine, Nikki Moustaki, that has always stayed in my memory: “How To Write A Poem After September 11th,” which was published in the New York Times on its own page (and included in the anthology Poetry After 9/11: An Anthology of New York Poets, Melville House, 2002). It was also, in some sense, an occasional poem, and very inspiring to me.
Poets.org: What is it about poetry that makes it the art form we turn to so often to mark or understand significant events?
Blanco: In terms of my personal aesthetic or take on poetry, I would say that poetry is the place we go to when we don’t have any more words: that place that is so emotionally centered. It is the place we go to when we have something that we can’t quite put a finger on, that we can’t explain away, that we can’t easily understand with the mind.
It’s the reason I come to poetry as well. As I love to say in my writing classes: If you sit down totally convinced of what the poem is going to be, don’t even sit down. Because writing a poem is a discovery process.
I’ve been working on a memoir, which is more about storytelling. I’ve learned to recognize that when I sit down to write a poem, I have something to figure out, and I have to do it on the page. And I hope that my inaugural poem will do that, in some ways, for the nation. That it will work towards making sense of—all the din of the day—all that we hear in the news.