From the U.S. Capital Building, to classrooms and conversations around the country, poet Richard Blanco contributes a powerful voice. Blanco brought his voice to Horace Mann School on October 29, 2019, sharing his poetry with HM's Upper and Middle Divisions in a day-long series of readings and discussions with students and faculty. The evening saw some 200 members of the greater Horace Mann School community, and HM's neighbors, coming to the school to hear Blanco's inspiring verse. Click to read more.
From the U.S. Capital Building, to classrooms and conversations around the country, poet Richard Blanco contributes a powerful voice. Blanco brought his voice to Horace Mann School on October 29, 2019, sharing his poetry with HM's Upper and Middle Divisions in a day-long series of readings and discussions with students and faculty. The evening saw some 200 members of the greater Horace Mann School community, and HM's neighbors, coming to the school to hear Blanco's inspiring verse.
Selected by President Barak Obama as the fifth inaugural poet in U.S. history, Blanco is the youngest and the first Latino, immigrant, and gay person to serve in this role. Born in Madrid to Cuban exile parents and raised in Miami, his poetry is characterized by his negotiation of cultural identity characterizes his poetry collections: City of a Hundred Fires, Directions to The Beach of the Dead, Looking for The Gulf Motel. His latest book of poems, How to Love a Country, interrogates both the American narrative, past and present, and celebrates the still un-kept promise of its ideals. Blanco also wrote the memoirs For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet's Journey and The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood. He is the winner of numerous literary awards, and has been a professor and visiting professor at several U.S. universities. In 2015, the Academy of American Poets chose Blanco as its first Education Ambassador, and, since 2016, has served on the Obama Foundation's Storytelling Committee.
"We were thrilled to have Richard Blanco with us for the day. The students were truly inspired by his beautiful poetry, as well as his personal story, and by the way he related so directly with each one," said Horace Mann Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly, explaining that planning for the day's assemblies and discussions began last spring, when he was Acting Head of HM's Middle Division. "Together with Dave Aldrich, the founder and executive director of Grab the Torch, a high school empowerment program that is connected with HM, we worked with UD Library Chair Caroline Bartels, to bring Mr. Blanco to Horace Mann School for our annual visiting poet event. It was illuminating for our students to be able to listen to him and speak with him throughout the day, and we were delighted to be able to invite HM's parents and alumni, and guests from our neighboring community to our school for a reception and reading with one of this country's leading poets."
"Richard Blanco's visit was transformative for the Upper Division. I've never seen our students so engaged on so many levels: Blanco's presentation was moving, funny, thought-provoking and relevant to the experiences of so many of our students," said HM UD Head and English teacher Dr. Jessica Levenstein. "Through Blanco, our students saw the enormous power of the written word, and they were able to reflect on the ways their individual heritages intersect with and inform the American story. It was thrilling to see our students pepper Mr. Blanco with their many thoughtful questions and they seemed to hang on his every word. Richard Blanco had a significant impact on all of us and I think we will be talking about his visit for a long time."
HM Middle Division Head Javaid Khan '92 described the assembly arranged for the school's sixth-through-eighth graders as "fantastic. One class chose to have students write thank you cards to Richard Blanco, which we delivered to him that evening. In each card, students reflected on the words spoken, the meaning of his poetry, and the relation to aspects of their own lives – immigrant experiences, love for a parent, or conflicting feelings for a country. It was powerful to see students as young as 10 or 11 fully present and reflective during a poetry assembly. We cannot wait to have Mr. Blanco back again!"
The poet arrived at HM at 7:45 a.m., and began his day by speaking with UD students in their English classes, before going on to read his poetry at two assemblies and "talk-back" sessions with students that were moderated by HM seniors Adriana Hernandez '20, Tiger Lily Moreno '20, and Jayla Thomas '20, of HM's Latinx Affinity group. As the day concluded with Blanco's reading for the greater community, he thanked everyone involved with organizing his visit, including Dave Aldrich for connecting him with Horace Mann School. "I don't even know where to begin to describe such a beautiful day." Earlier, he noted that what surprised him about his visit was the depth of the questions, particularly about writing and structuring poetry, he heard from the HM students, as well as the conversations he shared with them. "My biggest thanks goes to the students. The students were amazing – their generosity, their questions, their inquisitiveness, was just absolutely beautiful. I want to thank the entire community that put this together, to allow us to come together today and this evening, as the proverbial village, to gather together around and experience art and literature, to experience poetry, as it should be, communally, always, because in spirit, something different happens, something grabs hold of us very differently.
"This day was a gift to me" Blanco continued, explaining, "What I do as a writer is, in some ways, sitting at my desk, hunched over at my desk, in a little bit of a vacuum. When I get to do this, when I get to connect with people, when I get to see their smiles and hear their tears and laughter, and share their stories, it makes what I do feel real and honest and authentic. It's what I give away, but also how it comes back to me. You are all amazing, so, I thank you for this whole experience, from 7:45 a.m. to now," he said to the audience's laughter, and before launching into a recitation of "One Today" the poem he wrote for President Obama's inauguration, and a host of his other compositions.
The event continued to resonate with students, some of whom gathered the following day in HM's Multicultural Center for discussions on "Engaging in the Work and Stories of Richard Blanco" with members of the UD English and History Departments, and leaders of the Latinx Affinity Group, organized by the school's Office for Identity, Culture and Institutional Equity.