Late last year Richard Blanco was selected as the country’s fifth inaugural poet, a post previously held by Robert Frost and Maya Angelou. The engineer-turned poet was given fewer than six weeks to write three “occasional” poems, from which the inaugural committee chose one, “One Today,” that he read at the January swearing-in ceremony for President Barack Obama’s second term. Now Beacon Press is trying to undergo a similar feat of its own for Blanco’s book about writing the poem, and about his life, For All of Us, One Today. The manuscript was delivered in early August and the press is dropping it into its fall list.
Blanco, who recently met with PW at Beacon’s offices on Beacon Hill, said that writing about the experience of creating the poems forced to examine his life as an American, a gay man, and an immigrant, who was born in Spain, grew up in Miami, and lives in Bethel, Maine. “If I can say this at 45,” he said, “it’s a coming-of-age book.” Blanco originally asked Mitchell Kaplan, owner of the South Florida and Cayman Islands Books & Books stores, whom he regards as his “godfather,” to publish For All of Us, One Today under his B&B Press imprint. But Kaplan recommended that Blanco try Beacon’s director Helene Atwan, who quickly said “yes.”
Beacon plans a November 19 on-sale date for the $15 paperback with French flaps; galleys arrived earlier this week. And blurbs have already started to pour in. CNN news anchor Anderson Cooper was among the first: “This is a book not just about one poet’s journey but about the power of poetry to capture moments, to transform lives, and to illuminate truths.” Former poet laureate Billy Collins calls the book “charming and engrossing. . . The high drama here is the backstage look into the pressure and process of writing the poem itself and the thrill or reading it to the world.”
“[Being the inaugural poet] changed my life in the most unexpected ways,” said Blanco. “I thought I’d go back home and walk my dog. It gifted me a vision of why this only happens every four years. It’s given me a commitment to how we can foster a new generation of poetry writers and reader. We have to empower educators to expose children to more contemporary works of poetry. I went for my bachelor’s degree without ever reading one poem.”
The University of Pittsburgh Press, which has published several collections of Blanco’s poetry, released a chapbook of the inaugural poem in March. Although the slim Beacon paperback, organized around writing “One Today,” is also highly autobiographical, Blanco has been working on a full-length memoir for several years. He has just agreed on terms with Ecco for Little Riqui for publication in 2014, and he’s close to finding a publisher who shares his vision of the inaugural poem as a children’s book.
Since January, Blanco’s also been offered a number of commission poems, from one for the One Fund Boston fundraiser for marathon victims to one for the fragrance awards. “It’s not what you write,” said Blanco, “But how you write about it: If you approach a subject with love.”