Master's Tea with Inaugural Poet Richard Blanco

by Wesley Yiin, PC '16

Richard Blanco gave a Master’s Tea at Ezra Stiles College within Yale University on Tuesday, February 5, 2013, making his first public appearance since President Obama’s second inauguration. As the first Hispanic, first openly gay, and fifth Inaugural Poet in history, Blanco attracted a large audience of students, faculty, and various members of the Yale community to the highly anticipated event.

The intimate discussion took place in the living room of the Master’s house, which was packed to maximum capacity. In contrast with traditional Master’s Tea format, Master Pitti only facilitated the talk. Most of the conversation took place between Blanco and Professor Elizabeth Alexander, Chair of the African American Studies Department and 2009 Inaugural Poet.

Master Pitti, who serves as Director of the Ethnicity, Race, and Migration Program, introduced Blanco by describing his accomplishments and poetry. “Home is an important subject and concern that animates much of Richard Blanco’s work,” said Pitti when discussing the common themes within Blanco’s pieces. He also mentioned that it was the first time that two Inaugural Poets appeared publicly together.

Then, Blanco took the stage. In preparation for reading four of his poems, Blanco joked that he was more nervous now than at the inauguration, where everyone seemed to blend into a “sea of faces.”

Blanco began with a poem that he’d written in a creative writing class—one of his first. Titled “América,” the piece invoked both pathos and humor in depicting one of his family’s first Thanksgivings in America following their immigration from Cuba. The next two poems, “Venus in Miami Beach” and “Papá’s Bridge,” were about his mother and father, respectively.

Before ending with the inaugural poem, “One Today,” Blanco spoke on the piece’s themes of continuity and universality. “Everyone is connected, not just spiritually, but in a practical way,” Blanco told the audience. “Respect is respect.”

In the final third of the event, Professor Alexander and Blanco engaged in a discussion of their careers and experiences as Inaugural Poets. They reminisced about interactions with celebrities and the President, the artistic inspiration behind their respective poems, and the personal significance of the events.

For Blanco, the inauguration and poem were about identity. “I never embraced America fully until that moment,” he admitted. Only after witnessing the event in person did he realize: “This is what common ground means.”

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