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'How To Love A Country' Poet Richard Blanco Reads Your #NPRPoetry

Inaugural poet Richard Blanco reads Twitter poem submissions for NPR's celebration of National Poetry Month.
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Inaugural poet Richard Blanco reads Twitter poem submissions for NPR's celebration of National Poetry Month.

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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Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.