January, I need to let you know a few facts. Sure, you’re a long and hearty month, and one that demands we play by your rules, but seriously, we all must do what we must to survive you. I get it, if you had it your way, we’d all be hibernating like bears, hunkered down, stoking a smoky fire in a clay hut. But listen January, you may be bitter and cold and rigid and frigid, but we just can’t live like that. Not really. Not this year. Sure snowbirds may fly to Miami to escape the real you, but for those of us who hang tough to tell the tale come May, we have a few tried and true strategies. For starters, we keep color inside while your landscape lays bare on the other side of our frame. That’s right. A pop of color to remind us that even January, as big and rough as you want us to believe, is temporary.
Last week while still in Louisville I had the good fortune to hear Richard Blanco retell his story: from immigrant to inaugural poet for Obama in 2013. The story he shared is fabulous, filled with colorful elaboration, detailing his parents’ bold move from Cuba to Miami, recalling his fascinating childhood to his own journey as a poet. He moved his audience to tears and laughter, from the nostalgia of the past to the shared hope for the future. His story touched us all as pieces of it became our own. How he was picked by the White House is a mystery, even to him, but once we all heard his voice ring out over the capital on that cold January day, that no longer mattered. Richard Blanco is all of us.
An entire nation listened as our 44th President, Barack Obama, swore the oath signifying his position for four more years as commander and chief of the United States of America. Along with the historic pageantry, we were treated to a superb choir, the marine band, three celebrity singers and a young poet. This last position, that of Inaugural Poet, was first created for Robert Frost by President Kennedy. More than three decades later Bill Clinton too called on a poet to recite, that poet being Maya Angelou. Both Frost and Angelou were already acclaimed poets with followers that branched far beyond the modest recognition most literary writers attain, yet Obama sought out the relatively obscure Richard Blanco.
As Blanco came to the podium I could not help but think how unused to poetry we Americans have become. How rarely we listen as images and ideas filtered through emotions are recited to us. What a challenge this presents poets who face our world and try to reach all of us…