#NPRPoetry Month: Richard Blanco Reads Your Twitter Poems For National Poetry Month, NPR's Michel Martin speaks with poet Richard Blanco about his latest work and his favorite listener-submitted poems.
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#NPRPoetry Month: Richard Blanco Reads Your Twitter Poems

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#NPRPoetry Month: Richard Blanco Reads Your Twitter Poems

#NPRPoetry Month: Richard Blanco Reads Your Twitter Poems

#NPRPoetry Month: Richard Blanco Reads Your Twitter Poems

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For National Poetry Month, NPR's Michel Martin speaks with poet Richard Blanco about his latest work and his favorite listener-submitted poems.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now it's time for one of our favorite things - poetry. Every year in April, Poetry Month, we ask listeners to share original tweet-length poems, and every week this month, we will read through your submissions. This year, we have been honored to have a number of award-winning poets combing through submissions with us. Joining us this week is Richard Blanco. In 2013, he delivered the poem "One Today" at President Obama's second inauguration. And he is just out with a new collection of poems called "How To Love A Country." And he's with us now from Miami.

Richard Blanco, thank you so much for being with us once again.

RICHARD BLANCO: Thank you. It's wonderful to be here.

MARTIN: So let's talk for a minute about your work before we get to the submissions, if that's OK.

BLANCO: Sure.

MARTIN: At the 2013 inauguration, you wrote about an America united in its differences under one sky. Has your work changed since you were the inaugural poet? Especially, you know - I have to ask - since the 2016 election?

BLANCO: Oh, most certainly. I think that's one of the last transformations that happened because of the inauguration - because writing the poem itself but also the experience of reading that poem to a million people in front of me and 40 million on TV. And I think what would happen is that I stepped into my shoes or my role as a civic poet - something that I had never - sort of had skirted around - but this idea of thinking about what a poem can and should do in the world.

And so I just started writing poems that were more socially engaged, more socially conscious - writing poems like, for example, after the Boston Marathon bombings, after the Pulse shooting, thinking about how poetry occupies public space and speaks to current events and also, historically, to some of these other issues of gender, race and whatnot.

So, like I like to say, a different time has demanded a different kind of poem for me. And I think you see that with a lot of poets lately in the United States.

MARTIN: Well, let's get - I just have to say, I just think it's exquisite. And it's so interesting, like, how you play with classic language that we all know - like, for example, in your first poem, the poem that opens the book, "Declaration Of Inter-Dependence," which is interwoven with words from the Declaration of Independence. And also, you know, throughout the book, you use words other than English. And can you just give me one - just a couple of lines that you feel we should share? Would you mind?

BLANCO: Yeah. I'll read from that poem that you just mentioned, which I think is sort of the manifesto of the book in a way, which is to - let's move from the place of independence to a place of interdependence, right? So this is the last stanza.

(Reading) We hold these truths to be self-evident - where the cure for the hatred caused by our despair, where the good morning of a bus driver who remembers our name, the tattooed man who gives up his seat on the subway, where every door held open with a smile, when we look into each other's eyes the way, we behold the moon, with the moon, with a promise of one people, one breath declaring to one another, I see you. I need you. I am you.

So moving from this sense of - from dependence, independence to interdependence, and let's come together and think about this for a minute.

MARTIN: Well, that is a good segue to the poems that our listeners sent to us. Now, we've already gotten a lot of submissions, and we asked you to choose a couple that stood out to you. Here's one of them being read by its author.

ANTHONY TAO: My name is Anthony Tao. My poem is called "Career Path."

(Reading) They said art was misery, so I sought it - but it's not like you think, not rejection of comfort, self-mutilation. It was accepting who I am is the person I will live with for the rest of this path, which I'd prefer end some place I imagine.

MARTIN: Wow.

TAO: I love this poem because I think that poetry comes across in the one sense - or it begins in a space of really incredible self-expression and almost to the point of really self-absorbed with your own emotions. But what people don't often understand about poetry, I think, is that it's also a way of objectifying your life and realizing that the poem is an act of imagination, and the idea that you develop an artistic persona that becomes some other version of yourself in the poem.

And so I love that this poem is really pulling that apart and so economically and with such tight language. I mean, and this idea of - I'll repeat - which I'd prefer end some place I imagine, right? Sometimes we write to imagine our lives and ourselves in a different possibility that the art itself, the act of writing poetry is what does that. So I love that about this poem (laughter).

MARTIN: OK. Well, you know, since you love that poem so much, I think I'll just end with asking you, since you've taught a lot - I mean, you've taught poetry in prisons and in universities. You're the education ambassador for the Academy of American Poets. What advice do you have for listeners who want to craft their own poems?

BLANCO: Well, I mean, just very general and sort of very practical advice - always sign up for a workshop. We need feedback from our work always. And I always tell my students to - look, you want to play football? What do you got to do, right? You've got to first of all learn the rules, right? You got to learn (laughter) what a touchdown is, right? And then you've got to get your butt out on the field and practice and practice. And you've got to wake about 6 in the morning. You've got to stay after school for another three hours.

So I always try to tell people, think of writing in that way, too. You know, it - almost every human endeavor is pretty much a similar process of effort, failing, trying again. And it's just to think of it in those terms - I think it helps us to think of how to navigate through poetry and learning the craft.

MARTIN: That was poet Richard Blanco. His new book of poems, "How To Love A Country," is available now.

Richard, thank you so much for talking with us once again.

BLANCO: Thank you.

MARTIN: And if you'd like to hear your original poem on the air, tweet it to @npratc with the hashtag #NPRPoetry every week for the rest of the month. A professional poet will join us on the program to talk about some submissions that caught his or her eye. And even though Twitter has changed its character limit since we started this project, we're sticking with the original rules. Poems must be 140 characters or less.

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