Presidential Inaugural Poet Richard Blanco Speaks to Garfield High School Students

“I’m the P.I.P.,” Blanco joked on Monday to an auditorium full of 200 high school students, his answer to one student’s question of what it’s like to be a “full-time poet.” The room was silent. “Presidential Inaugural Poet?” Blanco filled in, eyebrows raised, his relatable, down-to-earth tone revealing his joke. He went on to remark that it is difficult for a person to make a living as a poet—and yet, since writing and presenting an original poem at President Obama’s 2013 re-inauguration, Blanco has been doing just that.

This full-time poet is in Seattle as part of Seattle Public Library’s “Seattle Reads” program, which this year features Blanco’s memoir, For All of Us, One Today: an Inaugural Poet’s Journey. His visit to Garfield High School through the Writers in the Schools (WITS) program at Seattle Arts & Lectures (SAL) was unique: Blanco had room on his whirlwind speaking-and-appearance tour in Seattle to visit just one K-12 public school, and Garfield was it.

The students were ready. Interested and engaged, many of them had read some or all of Blanco’s memoir and his inaugural poem, “One Today.” The first student question came from a young woman wondering about Blanco’s stance on marriage equality—a question that led Blanco to remark that “change is slow” but still, his “selection [as inaugural poet] couldn’t have happened ten years ago.” He finished his answer with a powerful directive: “Here we are … the point is to show up.”

Blanco shared with students a brief history of his life. Raised in Miami by parents who had emigrated from Cuba, Blanco was always wondering, he said, “Where do I fit in in this landscape of America?” This question was the driving force behind many of his poems. Addressing the students as writers with something to say, Blanco suggested that they “think about that one moment in [their] childhood when the world seemed perfect. What would that place look like now?”

One student asked if Blanco felt different writing “One Today” than he usually felt when writing. He told the students that he found he had to approach this poem “with the same love and affection” with which he approaches his writing of other poems. “For me, it’s sporadic,” Blanco told the students of his writing. “I tend to write when I have time and when something inspires me.” He added, “Writing is a process. You have to enter the process.” And, he said, “Don’t even worry about what’s going to happen tomorrow…. It’s just you and the page.”

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