For weeks after Richard Blanco was selected as President Obama’s Inaugural Poet, fear and worry would creep in. Asked to write an original poem that he would share on live television before the entire world, he was given surprisingly little direction by the White House. The poem was his to write.
“It was very liberating but also kind of scary,” Blanco said. “Who’s looking at the poem? I’m sure it’s not Campbell McGrath. They’re saying, ‘I love this poem.’ Yeah, but is it any good? What if I wrote the wrong poem or wrote a horrible poem?”
As the world now knows, Blanco wrote and delivered a transcendent poem, “One Today,” on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Since then, the Cuban born poet with two FIU degrees has become a literary superstar, doing dozens of interviews and fielding calls from agents and fans around the world.
Recently, Blanco returned to FIU to visit with President Mark B. Rosenberg and a group of faculty and friends of the university. In a relaxed living room conversation, Blanco talked about writing the inaugural poem, the big day and his years at FIU.
To come to “One Today,” Blanco said he began to hone in on how he feels about the United States of America. This was the second of three poems he wrote for the White House.
“What I hadn’t expected was it opened my creative channels,” he said. “It’s opened up a way for me to talk about America outside my own framework as an exile. I ended up really, really liking the poem.”
The response has been overwhelming, Blanco said.
“The emails were so amazingly beautiful about how it made people feel,” he said. “In a way you are not doing this. It’s a feeling of a gift that comes through you.”
One of the highlights of the day was meeting Beyoncé, who sang the Star Spangled Banner at the swearing in ceremony. Blanco sat two rows behind her.
“It was very interesting to see how this process works,” Blanco said. “Your people talk to her people. I thought I’d go up to her and say hi and they were like, NO! She finally asked, ‘Can you bring the poet in?’ She gave me a very sweet comment. She was very nervous, like we all were. She said, ‘How did you do that because I was singing someone else’s song. You had to write that.’”
Blanco often writes about the idea of community, and, he said, FIU, is part of his community. “I remember every single professor at FIU. In some way they touched me.”
He recalled how, as an undergraduate engineering major, he had postponed taking an historical analysis class. History Professor Darden Pyron sat him down. “He said, ‘Think of it as an engineering problem. The numbers need to add up.” That talk, Blanco says, led him to consider the possibility that he could do something creative with his life.