How to Love a Country: Poems (Hardcover)
A new collection from the renowned inaugural poet exploring immigration, gun violence, racism, LGBTQ issues, and more, in accessible and emotive verses
As presidential inaugural poet, memoirist, public speaker, educator, and advocate, Richard Blanco has crisscrossed the nation inviting communities to connect to the heart of human experience and our shared identity as a country. In this new collection of poems, his first in over seven years, Blanco continues to invite a conversation with all Americans. Through an oracular yet intimate and accessible voice, he addresses the complexities and contradictions of our nationhood and the unresolved sociopolitical matters that affect us all.
The poems form a mosaic of seemingly varied topics: the Pulse Nightclub massacre; an unexpected encounter on a visit to Cuba; the forced exile of 8,500 Navajos in 1868; a lynching in Alabama; the arrival of a young Chinese woman at Angel Island in 1938; the incarceration of a gifted writer; and the poet’s abiding love for his partner, who he is finally allowed to wed as a gay man. But despite each poem’s unique concern or occasion, all are fundamentally struggling with the overwhelming question of how to love this country.
Seeking answers, Blanco digs deep into the very marrow of our nation through poems that interrogate our past and present, grieve our injustices, and note our flaws, but also remember to celebrate our ideals and cling to our hopes. In the landmark poem “American Wandersong,” which forms the center of the book, the poet reveals himself to readers in a disarming and kinetic sequence of stanzas, striving to find his place amid the physical and emotional landscapes of our country.
Through this groundbreaking volume, Blanco unravels the very fabric of the American narrative and pursues a resolution to the inherent contradiction of our nation’s psyche and mandate: e pluribus unum (out of many, one). Charged with the utopian idea that no single narrative is more important than another, this book asserts that America could and ought someday to be a country where all narratives converge into one, a country we can all be proud to love and where we can all truly thrive.
About the Author
Selected by President Obama to be the fifth inaugural poet in history, Richard Blanco followed in the footsteps of Robert Frost and Maya Angelou. The youngest, first Latino, first immigrant, and first openly gay person to serve in the role, he read his inaugural poem, "One Today" on January 21, 2013. Blanco and his family arrived in Miami as exiles from Cuba through Madrid where he was born. The negotiation of cultural identity and universal themes of place and belonging, characterize his three collections of poetry. His poems have also appeared in The Best American Poetry and Great American Prose Poems. Blanco is a Fellow of the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, recipient of two Florida Artist Fellowships, and is a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow. A builder of cities as well as poems, he is also a professional civil engineer currently living in Bethel, Maine, and Miami, Florida. He currently serves as the Education Ambassador for the American Academy of Poets.
“This clear-seeing and forthright volume marks Blanco as a major, deeply relevant poet.”
—Booklist, Starred Review
“Generous and deeply felt, the long prose poems in this moving new collection from presidential inaugural poet Blanco (after Looking for the Gulf Motel) help us understand what it means to cross a border . . . . Submit to the fierce pleasure of Blanco’s art.”
“Blanco’s contributions to the fields of poetry and the arts have already paved a path forward for future generations of writers . . . Our Nation was built on the freedom of expression, and poetry has long played an important role in telling the story of our Union and illuminating the experiences that unite all people.”
—President Barack Obama
“At a time when we are once again debating our identity as Americans, this splendid collection of poems from a great storytelling poet is an absolute treasure that speaks to the things that hold us together despite the things that split us apart.”
—Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of Leadership in Turbulent Times
“From a country courting implosion, a country at odds with its own brutal and breathless backstory, a country with a name that sparks both expletive and prayer, rises Richard Blanco’s muscular, resolute voice—sounding stanzas of the confounded heart and clenched fist, of indignation and insurrection. This is an urgent gathering of sweet, fractured, insistent American noise—the stories that feed us and the stories we’d rather forget—re-teaching us all the right ways there are to love a country that so often forgets how to love us back.”
—Patricia Smith, author of Incendiary Art
“This new collection is vibrant, tragic, exhilarating, deeply in love with people and their stories and heartbreakingly engaged with our struggling nation. These are poems for every season, for large and small moments and very much for our time.”
—Amy Bloom, author of White Houses
“A frank and wonderful collection that calls America a work in progress, that describes the poet himself as a grade school bully who loved the other boy he hit and one could readily cry with him now, everything is alive here in his book: the Rio Grande as sentient and knowing, all this with a jazz musician’s timing. Richard Blanco writes about the elusive poundingness of love.”
—Eileen Myles, author of Evolution
“In these times of hate, we need poets who speak of love. Richard Blanco’s new collection is a visionary hymn of love to the human beings who comprise what we call this country. Whether he speaks in the voice of an immigrant who came here long ago, or the very river an immigrant crosses to come here today, Blanco sings and sings. This, the song says, is the way out—for all of us.”
—Martín Espada, author of Vivas to Those Who Have Failed
“Richard Blanco has risen to the challenge of writing poetry that serves our nation. This is both a responsibility and an honor. I am moved, proud, overjoyed, and inspired.”
—Sandra Cisneros, author of The House on Mango Street
“Powerful, personal, and full of life, these poems delve into the complex intricacies of what it means to call the United States home. A masterful poet who is clear-eyed and full of heart, Blanco explores the country’s haunted past while offering a bright hope for the future.”
—Ada Limón, author of Bright Dead Things
“In this timely collection, Richard Blanco masterfully embraces his role as a civic poet, confronting our nation’s riddled history in the light of conscience. At once personal and political, these lyric narratives decry injustice and proclaim our hopes.”
—Carolyn Forché, author of The Country Between Us
“There is a uniting oneness to these passionate and remarkable poems, each finely wrought line a bridge from one heart to another, a love song of this burdened earth and all its flawed inhabitants. Richard Blanco is this century’s Walt Whitman.”
—Andre Dubus III, author of Gone So Long