President Obama’s second inauguration: his family’s brightly colored coats, thousands of American flags waving beyond a bullet-proof wall, the bright and open sky.
And a poet alone at the podium. Turning printed pages. Standing before the biggest audience he’ll ever see. A poet. Richard Blanco: the youngest inauguration poet, the first openly gay inauguration poet, the first Latino inauguration poet. Of course, there haven’t been many: Robert Frost, James Dickey, Maya Angelou, Miller Williams, Elizabeth Alexander. Only Democratic presidents and only since Kennedy.
As if Republican presidents can’t bear to be seen supporting the arts.
As if poetry doesn’t always belong in the world of politics.
A poet alone at the podium. And I thought of Robert Frost, the first inauguration poet, chosen by Kennedy. How the winter sun made it difficult for him to read from his printed page, how he stopped short and recited, instead, an older poem, a poem he knew by heart. A poem, many agree, that was much more interesting than the one he had written for that day. A poem with the line, “The deed of gift was many deeds of war.”
Poetry and politics. How does a poem say something as big as politics demands? How does it not?
As if poetry has ever been divorced from public life, from the realm of the political.
“The personal is political” Carol Hanisch taught us. A Latino, openly gay poet standing behind a bullet-proof wall, reading his poetry. How could that not be political?
The political is personal: our President behind a bullet-proof wall.
And Robert Frost. How old Frost had become by Kennedy’s inauguration. How suited men rise to shield his papers with their hats. A decidedly American poet at a decidedly American event.
Because Kennedy understood that poets bring something important to the political sphere, say something important about who we are. Who we could be. That poetry is personal and political, political and personal. That one short poem—16 lines—can say more than a political speech. That a poet belongs standing next to a president.
President Obama’s second inauguration. A poet named Blanco standing behind a bullet-proof wall, standing in front of the biggest audience of his life. Reading, “one sun” and “one light,” “one ground” and “one sky.” Repeating it: one sky.