David Biespiel’s Poetry Wire: Viva Richard Blanco!


As of today the question of whether President Barack Obama or former Governor Mitt Romney won the Cuban vote in Florida, traditionally a solid Republican bloc, remains in dispute. Back in early November exit polls had the president with 51%. If accurate, that was a major surprise and a major breakthrough. It’s silly, I know, that we have a $30 billion trade deficit with communist China but still pander to Cuban exiles in Florida over Fidel Castro.

But now some political scientists in Florida are disputing that 51 percent figure with polling that shows, while Obama gained significantly among Cuban voters in Florida, Romney still pulled in something like 59%. (By comparison, Cuban-Americans in Florida supported McCain by 65 percent in 2008 and supported Bush by 71 percent in 2004 — yup, the times they are a-demographically changing.)

But one thing is certain. President Barack Obama is thanking Latino voters across the nation (they broke for him by a whopping 70 percent) with his very sweet selection of Richard Blanco as the Inaugural Poet come January 20 later this month. Plus, he’s adding a second thanks to LGBT voters (Blanco is gay) who voted for Obama something close to 80% nationwide.

A little ironic, but you got to love language’s capacity for a wink: Viva Blanco!

A poet of the Donald Justice school of Floridian nostalgia who sometimes sounds like Allen Ginsberg bathed in the aura of loving-kindness, Blanco is a poet of reclamation.

His poems are a collage of driftwood and watery currents, old Florida and older Cuba, art deco and holy Jesus, Spanish shepherds and oozy jazz, a love affair with the prose poem and a lust for the Gulf of Mexico. And all the while echoing in the background is Miami, Miami, Miami.

Blanco’s poetry reveals an America of the open road and the immigrant shadows. An America of wilted Catholicism but with a appetite for incense. An America of liberal love — or what used to just be called, love — bathed in urbane eros and political pride.

The English departments of America may call it identity poetics, but with his selection of Richard Blanco to write a poem for his second inauguration, President Obama is identifying Blanco’s poetry as, simply, American.

Good luck, Richard.

David Biespiel is a poet, literary critic, memoirist, and contributing writer at American Poetry Review, New Republic, New York Times, Poetry, Politico, The Rumpus, and Slate, among other publications. He is the author of numerous books, most recently The Education of a Young Poet, which was selected a Best Books for Writers by Poets & Writers, A Long High Whistle, which received the 2016 Oregon Book Award for General Nonfiction, and The Book of Men and Women, which was chosen for Best Books of the Year by the Poetry Foundation and received the 2011 Oregon Book Award for Poetry. More from this author →