I don't know anything about the work of Richard Blanco, other than he is now the World's most famous Gay Poet. OK, well after Auden. And Whitman. And Byron. And Sappho. And Maya Angelou. Hmm. Well anyway he's certainly one of Vermont's most famous gay poets... I think.
Anyway, his inaugural poem One Day was amusingly trashed by Sarah Ruden in The Corner. And it wasn't hard to do. It's full of treacly images that beg for swelling violins. And the message is not all too complex in its effort to articulate common ground.
But I think her take rather too catty all things considered. After all, who loves treacle more than Morning-in-America-Reaganites. And surely that famous convention video is one of this poem's antecedents. It may even lift a few images straight from the video from what I recall.
It's not fair to tag the president too closely with the contents of the poem. To my knowledge the White House did not approve the copy in advance -- but the choices it makes are interesting ones. In the end, I think it must be very difficult to write a poem suited to the occasion that offers inspiration without offense, and remains reasonably accessible. And who am I to judge? After all, 94% of the Los Angeles Times readers enjoyed the poem.
What do you think?
One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.
OK. This entire paragraph is really straight from a children's book complete with homey cliches for each part of the country. Still the image of sunrise breaking across us all is evocative.
My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows
begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper -- bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us, on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives -- to teach geometry, or ring up groceries as my mother did for twenty years, so I could write this poem.
Urban, blue collar folks only please. The image again is evocative for me, but I started to wonder about the strategy of trying to capture everyone. Aren't you bound to leave someone out?
All of us as vital as the one light we move through,
the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day:
equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined,
the “I have a dream” we keep dreaming,
or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won’t explain
the empty desks of twenty children marked absent
today, and forever. Many prayers, but one light
breathing color into stained glass windows,
life into the faces of bronze statues, warmth
onto the steps of our museums and park benches
as mothers watch children slide into the day.
Cheap ploy to go straight to Sandy Hook. Also not sure that taking the Unitarian route isn't going to alienate some folks. Everyone that isn't praying in a stained-glass church or in front of a statue of Buddha anyway. Was there a mosque reference that got edited out at the last minute? Still I liked the final image of moms breathing warmth onto park benches as their children "slide into the day." Still decidedly urban though.
One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk
of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat
and hands, hands gleaning coal or planting windmills
in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands
digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands
as worn as my father’s cutting sugarcane
so my brother and I could have books and shoes.
Coal, wind -- can't we all just get along? Oh and we've finally left the city.
The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains
mingled by one wind -- our breath. Breathe. Hear it
through the day’s gorgeous din of honking cabs,
buses launching down avenues, the symphony
of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways,
the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.
"Gorgeous din?" He's definitely gay. And we've quickly retreated to the city.
Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling,
or whispers across cafe tables, Hear: the doors we open
for each other all day, saying: hello, shalom,
buon giorno, howdy, namaste, or buenos días
in the language my mother taught me -- in every language
spoken into one wind carrying our lives
without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.
Everybody loves kids in playgrounds right? Can't get enough of that playground equipment. And we picked up the Jews that got left out of the bronze statue, stained glass stanza. Howdy for the red necks... but still leaving out the Muslims. I like the image of the wind carrying all voices without prejudice though.
One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed
their majesty, and the Mississippi and Colorado worked
their way to the sea. Thank the work of our hands:
weaving steel into bridges, finishing one more report
for the boss on time, stitching another wound
or uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait,
or the last floor on the Freedom Tower
jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.
Finishing one more report for the boss on time? Is that really the best you can do for the white collar crowd? What's that from, Bewitched? (Turns out it is.) I do like the image of the sky yielding to our resilience in the construction of the Freedom Tower.
One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes
tired from work: some days guessing at the weather
of our lives, some days giving thanks for a love
that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother
who knew how to give, or forgiving a father
who couldn’t give what you wanted.
OK, I rather like this paragraph. He's been hammering at the many religions/one people theme and I think this paragraph -- personal daddy baggage notwithstanding -- finally accomplishes what he's been after.
We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always -- home,
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country -- all of us --
facing the stars
hope -- a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it -- together
"Plum blush of dusk" is very nice. I wonder if he had been saving that one for a special occasion. Ending on the progressive remaking the World theme though. Definitely not a message to inspire Conservatives, but a gentle enough image and one that celebrates the space program in some way so it has that at least.
I have to concede that I like the poem well enough. I don't think it rises to the ranks of that pantheon of other gay poets described above. But it made me appreciate having a poet read at the inauguration and no matter what your politics I think we can all agree that it was a more dignified moment than having Kelly Clarkson sing.