One Today: Inaugural Poet Richard Blanco on Reigniting Poetry in America

Richard Blanco - One Today

Editor's Note: Richard Blanco was America’s Inaugural Poet for Obama's second inauguration in 2013. Chosen to compose and deliver a poem before one million in attendance at the National Mall, Blanco penned “One Today,” an ode to the brimming diversity of American culture. Richard is now out with a charming story, For All of Us, One Today, reflecting on the hazy, euphoric months leading up to his appointment as the Inaugural Poet. Here, Richard has joined us to explain the surreal experience of being selected, and reaffirm his mission to better connect Americans with modern poetry.

Days after returning home from all the inauguration fanfare, the whole experience of writing and reading the inaugural poem still felt like a dream, like something that could’ve happened ten minutes ago or ten years ago; something absolutely vivid and real, yet completely blurry and vague. I knew then that I’d need to write and nail it all down, so to speak. I'd need to put ink to paper to prove that what had just happened to me really happened. And so I did -- I had to. I brewed some coffee, lit a candle, sat down again at the same kitchen table where just weeks before I had written the inaugural poem, and began writing For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet’s Journey.

As Anaïs Nin put it, "We write to taste life twice…" And I knew writing was the only way to travel back in time and go over all the fine details, caress each memory, again stare into the jewel of each moment -- and I did. I retasted moments like the afternoon I was driving home when I received the phone call from the Presidential Inaugural Committee, and had to pull off the road, weeping as I thought about my immigrant parents, all their hard work and sacrifice to provide an education for me. Moments like the morning I stood at the kitchen sink watching the sunrise that inspired the first line of the inaugural poem, "One sun rose on us today…" Or that eternal second when I stood at the podium and took a deep breath as I gazed out over the sea of people on the National Mall waiting for my lines. It did happen.

Despite all the interviews I gave on major media in the US and throughout the world, I felt the emotional details of the larger story never surfaced. I knew writing would let me delve deeper into the richness of that story -- and it did.

It’s the story of the emotional process -- not just the writing process -- of creating the three inaugural poems I was asked to write, and the questions I had to ask myself:  Am I American?  Do I love America? What do I love about America? The story of how I finally embraced my Americanness, and also felt embraced by America as a result of my role as inaugural poet. The story of how I came to poetry and balanced my career as a civil engineer with my vocation as a poet. And the story of my immigrant past, which was one of the underlying inspirations for the poem I read to thenation. It did happen.

As I witnessed it, the inauguration connects America with poetry like nothing else can in our country. I re-read through the hundreds of messages from people from all over the country, and from all walks of life. They spoke clearly to me of the great potential and hope for poetry in America. Writing For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet’s Journey allowed me to discover a new mission. I want to keep America connected to poetry, reshape how we think about it, and try to dispel the myths and misconceptions about the art by introducing us to more contemporary work that speaks to our lives in real time, fostering a new generation of poetry readers and lovers. It can happen.

Richard Blanco in 2012, reciting "One Today" at the National Mall.