Local poet Kristen Lindquist, who will introduce him on stage, tells us what to expect

Inaugural poet Richard Blanco comes to Midcoast April 22

Wed, 04/17/2013 - 12:00pm

CAMDEN-To paraphrase Rodney Dangerfield, poets "don't get no respect." (Arrgh the grammar!) Well let's just say in most places, to be a poet is to be a fairly unappreciated writer. What with laptops, iPads, Netflix, video games, etc. who has the time to actually listen to a poem? Well, given that it is national poetry month, Midcoast is about to get a real treat. Maine poet Richard Blanco, who served as this year's inaugural poet for President Obama, will be coming to the Midcoast Monday, April 22, to meet with local middle school students and do a public reading at the Strom Auditorium at Camden Hills Regional High School, 25 Keelson Drive (Route 90) in Rockport, at 7 p.m.

We turned to Kristen Lindquist, a poet, essayist and naturalist, to ask why this is so special and what to expect.

"What makes it exciting for me is probably different from what will make it exciting for the average person, because the average person doesn't read a lot of poetry," she said. "We have an opportunity to hear a wellknown poet read in our community. I can't think of when we've ever had such a high-profile poet visit the Midcoast. I'm excited because I think his reading will bring increased appreciation and respect for poetry and hopefully encourage more people to attend readings by our local poets and writers." 

Blanco, 44, who lives in Bethel, is the first immigrant, the first Latino, the first openly gay person, and the youngest person to be the U.S. inaugural poet. He is only the fifth poet to take part in an inaugural ceremony, and joins the company of Robert Frost, Maya Angelou, Miller Williams and Elizabeth Alexander. 

"I've read all three of his books and I think he's wonderful," said Lindquist. "After reading them, it makes total sense why he was chosen as the inaugural poet because his work really speaks to everybody."

She went on to say: "He's a straightforward, accessible poet with a primary focus on place and identity and notions of home. His background is really interesting. His parents were Cuban and they went to Spain just before he was born. A month and a half later they flew to the United States where they lived in exile in New York and Miami. So, he always had Cuban family around him talking about the lost homeland. But to Blanco, America was his home."

A Cuban American who grew up in Miami, Fla.,, Blanco's work has received numerous awards and recognitions. His acclaimed first book of poetry, City of a Hundred Fires, explores the yearnings and negotiation of cultural identity as a Cuban American, and received the Agnes Starrett Poetry Prize from the University of Pittsburgh Press. His second book, Directions to The Beach of the Dead, won the Beyond Margins Award from the PEN American Center. A third collection, Looking for The Gulf Motel, was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2012.

An insight into who Blanco is beyond his poetry can be found in a little anecdote he shares on his website: "At a poetry reading a woman once asked me to share something about myself that no one would know directly from reading my bio or my work. Somewhat embarrassed, I told the audience about my poetry dance — a little Michael Jackson-inspired shtick I do around the house in my pajamas when I am high from a good-poem day."

Lindquist will be introducing Blanco on stage: "I'm working on my speech right now. I'm trying to keep it not too long, but not too short either, like, 'okay, here he is!' " she laughed.

In preparation for Blanco's visit, students at Hope Elementary, Appleton Village, Lincolnville Central, and Camden Rockport Middle schools will study his poems and choose the poems they would like Blanco to read. Organizers are predicting a full house at both the student event and the public reading.

Tickets for the public event are $10 for adults and $5 for students, and are available at Lincolnville Community Library, the Appleton Library, Hope General Store, Camden Public Library, Rockport Public Library, Owl & Turtle Bookshop, HAV II in Camden, Left Bank Books in Belfast, and hello hello Books and Reading Corner in Rockland. All proceeds benefit Partners for Enrichment.

For more information on Blanco visit his website: richard-blanco.com

Kay Stephens can be reached at news@penbaypilot.com