Poet Richard Blanco Shares Insight, Inspiration in Day-Long Campus Visit

“Made in Cuba, assembled in Spain, and imported to the United States.”

Not one to waste words, acclaimed poet Richard Blanco summed up his heritage and introduced his enduring theme of “home” with that phrase during an all-school lecture on September 29. 

“When I was forty-five days old, I belonged to three countries, and yet to none,” he said, as he launched into stories of his life, shared through both narrative and poems that untangle his search for identity—as Cuban, gay, and American.

Mr. Blanco explained that poets are seeking answers to unanswerable questions, in his case the quest to understand where home is and what home means. “Every poet is writing one poem all his life,” he said, explaining that he has come to realize that, for him, home encompasses family, community, sexuality, and cultural identity. 

The poet, author of several books, gained notoriety after reading “One Today” at President Obama’s second inauguration. That poem, a sweeping look at the U.S. and its people, includes this passage: "Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper— bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us, on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives— to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did for twenty years, so I could write this poem."

Mr. Blanco’s mother and grandmother are key characters in his poetry. He told the Groton community that his mother “should have been the one to read that poem in Washington because my story wouldn’t have been possible without her story.” 

His relationship with his grandmother—his “best friend”—was painfully complicated. Among the poems he read at Groton were “Mother Country,” “Looking for the Gulf Motel,” and “Queer Theory: According to My Grandmother,” which showcases his abuela’s litany of homophobic rules.

Mr. Blanco said that the journey of poetry writing—not knowing quite where a poem may lead—motivates him. “Why I keep in writing is the discovery. I don’t know what I’m going to discover...," he said, adding, "That’s what the reader really responds to—the discovery.”

After the all-school presentation, Mr. Blanco spoke in the Sackett Forum all day long, through every academic period, then met in the evening with the student-run Poetry Club and Literary Club. He lived up to his title of Education Ambassador of the Academy of American Poets.

“Mr. Blanco shared invaluable knowledge on the writing process and his journey as a writer,” said Poetry Club co-head Sophia Bay ’23, “but he also unraveled the essence of poetry, allowing students to garner a deeper understanding of what it means to be a poet beyond the pen and paper.”

Throughout the day, students asked him questions on everything from his process (“never put an idea before a poem; the idea will emerge from really being honest and authentic”) and his nerves at the presidential inauguration (“even Beyonce was nervous”) to how being an engineer influences his writing (“a lot of the rigor of math I use in writing”). 

“You can do more than one thing,” he assured students. “The most interesting things that happen in life are at the intersection of things.”

Literary Club co-head Fiona Reenan ’23 said that students appreciated Mr. Blanco’s funny anecdotes and found him inspiring. “He really deepened our understanding of what it means to be a poet both as a profession and as a person,” she said.

The poet was as relatable as his emphasis on home—a theme that sparked conversation during mid-day meetings between students and their advisors. As Mr. Blanco—who has looked for home in places including Miami, Connecticut, and Brazil, observed, “The drive to find home is universal.”