For Richard Blanco, life has been one big turn after another since he read his poem “One Today” last week at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration.
“My everyday has changed completely. I’m taking care of a lot of things, and also trying to do some writing and setting up readings all the way into 2014,” he said. “A poet is not used to that kind of attention. It’s mind-boggling.”
Blanco, who lives in Bethel, is scheduled to read Feb. 26 in a free public event at the Merrill Auditorium in Portland. He accepted an invitation to read in Maine’s largest city from Creative Portland Corp.
Blanco will read the poem that he wrote for the inaugural, as well as other works.
“I’ll do my usual repertoire of poems and the inaugural poem, of course. I want to let people know where I come from and where my work comes from,” he said in a phone interview Tuesday. “It seemed like a great way to connect with my home state. I only moved here three or four years ago, and I am excited about the opportunity. And Merrill is a great space. It’s a great honor.”
Until the inauguration, Blanco was a little-known poet. “One Today,” a nine-stanza poem, elevated him to international stature. The poem speaks of inclusion, unity and hope.
His reading will begin at 7 p.m. Feb. 26. Admission is free, but tickets are required. They will be available beginning Monday through PortTix, the ticketing arm of Merrill Auditorium.
Tickets will be limited to two per person and can be picked up at the Merrill Auditorium box office, reserved by phone at 842-0800 or reserved online at porttix.com.
Creative Portland Corp. arranged the event after receiving financial support from the Quimby Family Foundation. PortTix is supporting it by waiving its usual fee, said Jennifer Hutchins, executive director of Creative Portland Corp.
Hutchins and Andres Verzosa, who owns an art gallery in Portland, worked together to arrange the reading. Verzosa was moved by Blanco’s poem and quickly turned to Facebook to build momentum for the reading.
He said, “I just posted, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to bring him here, and could that actually happen?'”
Emboldened by a strong response, Verzosa began calling art leaders to turn the idea into reality.
“When I heard ‘One Today,’ I was just blown away,” Verzosa said. “Here was a poet from Maine that tells a story I can relate to as an American. … It was a big, expansive, inspiring and affirming thing.”
Hutchins said the reading is perfect for Creative Portland. The agency works to expand access to the arts — so, she asked, what’s better than a free event in the state’s largest city that celebrates the success of a Maine artist?
“It’s not just for people who can afford to buy tickets. It’s an event that’s open for everybody,” she said.
She saluted Verzosa for marshaling the idea and the Quimby Family Foundation for funding it. The event will cost about $10,000, she said.
Blanco, 44, is Hispanic and openly gay. He moved to Maine from Miami with his partner in search of a quieter lifestyle.
He said, “It was a fantasy of dropping out a little bit, and Bethel is such an amazing town. It’s nice and peaceful here. The quality of life is just amazing.”
He said he has been “shell-shocked” from the media attention since the inauguration, and he looks forward to returning to a quiet lifestyle.
“I am missing walking the dog and doing my usual errands, but things will settle into place,” he said.
Blanco doesn’t plan any other readings in Maine before the event in Portland, although he said Bethel is planning a reception in his honor.
The poet said the inauguration appeared much different on TV than in person.
“You’re so high up and so far away from the crowd. A reading with 10 people sitting in front of you with eye contact can be more nerve-wracking,” he said, laughing. “So it’s kind of misleading in the sense that you saw a lot more people on TV than I did. On the platform, it feels quite intimate.”
As he read for America, Blanco said, he imagined reading his poem to a snowman that his nephews made in Bethel. Before leaving for Washington, he had rehearsed outdoors with an audience of the solitary snowman, to get the experience of reading in the chill of the open air.
Blanco has no idea what Obama said to him after he finished reading “One Today.”
“It was some kind of congratulations and pleasantries,” he said, “but I was so nervous, I really don’t know what he said.”
Hutchins, with Creative Portland Corp., said Blanco represents many artists in Maine.
“They live in Maine, they have their homes in Maine, but they travel all over the world with their creative talent. Richard Blanco is the epitome of creativity in Maine,” she said.
He also represents one of Maine’s oldest artistic traditions. Portland is the native city of one of the world’s greatest poets, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and it’s a time-honored tradition in town for poets and other literary figures to fill a public venue for readings, she noted.
“To have this event here, and with free admission, is perfect — just perfect,” Hutchins said.