'How To Love A Country' Poet Richard Blanco Reads Your #NPRPoetry
If there's a silver lining to glean amid a pandemic, Richard Blanco says it's an opportune time for the socially distanced and homebound to immerse in poetry.
"A lot of poetry is about being quiet and being still and observing," the Cuban American poet said. "I think we have that opportunity right now."
And April just so happens to be National Poetry Month.
It's a time when we call on our audience — budding and studied poets alike — to indulge in the art form.
Blanco, who was selected as President Obama's inaugural poet in 2013, says staying present is how all of his poems begin.
He spotted such a moment of observation in an #NPRPoetry submission from Twitter user, @J_Wells_Design.
The writer relies on the pleasure of sound, Blanco noted, in the alliteration of cries/carries, bluebell/breeze and hold/hope. At the same time, the poet re-contextualizes the natural world, as poets tend to do, he said.
"I just love the whole idea of the grass being a dream catcher — it just seems so fresh and a new way to look at the grass blowing in the breeze," he added.
Blanco's latest collection of poems, How to Love a Country, was published last year. The following poem is excerpted from that work.
"My Father in English"
First half of his life lived in Spanish: the long syntax
of las montañas that lined his village, the rhyme
of sol with his soul — a Cuban alma — that swayed
with las palmas, the sharp rhythm of his machete
cutting through caña, the syllables of his canarios
that sung into la brisa of the island home he left
to spell out the second half of his life in English—
the vernacular of New York City sleet, neon, glass—
and the brick factory where he learned to polish
steel twelve hours a day. Enough to save enough
to buy a used Spanish-English dictionary he kept
bedside like a bible—studied fifteen new words
after his prayers each night, then practiced them
on us the next day: Buenos días, indeed, my family.
Indeed más coffee. Have a good day today, indeed—
and again in the evening: Gracias to my bella wife,
indeed, for dinner. Hicistes tu homework, indeed?
La vida is indeed difícil. Indeed did indeed become
his favorite word, which, like the rest of his new life,
he never quite grasped: overused and misused often
to my embarrassment. Yet the word I most learned
to love and know him through: indeed, the exile who
tried to master the language he chose to master him,
indeed, the husband who refused to say I love you
in English to my mother, the man who died without
true translation. Indeed, meaning: in fact/en efecto,
meaning: in reality/de hecho, meaning to say now
what I always meant to tell him in both languages:
thank you/gracias for surrendering the past tense
of your life so that I might conjugate myself here
in the present of this country, in truth/así es, indeed.
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