All those who commit themselves to the practice of writing poetry derive their art from asking questions, eventually learning to express their discoveries through their own unique voice. This process is often painstakingly slow, involving much angst and joy and pounding of the delete button with one finger that exhibits a fierce strength reserved for that purpose alone. Needless to say, only the very tenacious survive the experience and live to repeat it over and over again.
So when it is announced that a poet of such stalwart caliber, namely Richard Blanco, is coming to town, one best take note and start asking one's own questions. And that's exactly what I did when I was alerted by Milwaukee's award-winning poet and LGBTQ activist Carmen Murguia of Blanco's upcoming appearance.
Sitting down with Murguia last week over hot cappuccino and chai—not in the same cup, of course. Blech!—she told me a tale that begins with the idea springing forth from a casual conversation she had with Carl Szatmary, owner of Outwords Books. Seeking poetry recommendations, Szatmary suggested Blanco's work to Murguia and, lo, the notion of bringing Blanco to town was born and it was good.
Through many months of communication with Blanco's publicist and sponsorship proposals made to several local organizations without success, the event seemed dead in the water. But the good and determined people at Milwaukee Public Library would not let it perish and managed to find enough poetry loving donors to bring Blanco to town. Huzzah and Hooray!
For those unfamiliar, Richard Blanco's biography reads as anything but straight forward. Born in Madrid, Spain, in 1968 to exiled Cuban parents, Blanco and his family immigrated to the United States when he was just weeks old and settled in Miami. That brief yet complex history alone would provide enough source material for anyone to begin the work of probing the Biggest of Big Identity Questions: Who am I? Where do I come from? How do I fit into this world? But Blanco would face yet another emotional and intellectual challenge as he learned to come to terms with his homosexuality and embrace his true self.
Though well-known within literary circles since the publication of his first book of poetry, City of a Hundred Fires, in 1998, Blanco is most widely recognized as the first Latino and openly gay writer to serve as inaugural poet of the United States. As many may recall, he wrote the poem "One Today" and read it at President Barack Obama's inauguration ceremony on January 21, 2013.
Since then, Blanco has published a memoir, The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood (2014), and a children's book of "One Today," illustrated by Dav Pilkey. He is also Co-Creator, along with author and poet Ruth Behar, of a blog called Bridges to/from Cuba: Lifting the Emotional Embargo, which seeks to provide "a cultural and artistic platform for sharing the real lives and complex emotional histories of thousands of Cubans across the globe."
The Richard Blanco event is this Saturday, February 20, 2016, from 7-9PM, at Centennial Hall in the Milwaukee Public Library's Central Library—enter on Eighth Street, between Wells Street and Wisconsin Avenue. A Q&A session and book signing will follow Blanco's talk, and his works will be available for sale from Outwords Books.