Education: the Key to an Appreciation of Poetry

by Richard Blanco

As a Presidential Inaugural Poet I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to share my love of poetry at such unlikely venues as the Federal Reserve, the Mayo Clinic, Silicon Valley, the USDA, engineering firms and conferences, law firms, and advocacy groups of all kinds. In every instance, I witness audiences taken by a newfound connection to poetry. I hear comments such as: “I never knew poetry could be like this”; “That’s not what they taught me in high school”; “This is my first time at a poetry reading — and I’m hooked.” For many, it’s the first time they’ve been exposed to contemporary poetry and engaged with a living poet. Their sudden delight and appetite for poetry has made me question why poetry isn’t a larger part of our cultural lives; why poetry isn’t as connected to our popular conversations as film, music, and novels; and why poetry isn’t more entrenched in our history, rooted in our folklore, and established in our national identity as it is in other countries. Where is the disconnect? I think the bottom line is education. The way poetry is generally deemed to be taught (especially in K through 12 grades) falls short of exploring its full potential for students as well as teachers. As such, this National Poetry Month, I urge poets and lovers of poetry to engage teachers of all disciplines, encourage them to discover the relevance and power of poetry, and the importance of enabling young people to encounter poetry in schools. That’s what I’ve committed to as Education Ambassador for the Academy of American Poets, which offers a plethora of resources for educators, including lesson plans, a monthly newsletter for teachers, and the “Teach This Poem” email series with activities to help teachers quickly and easily bring poetry into the classroom. Involving ourselves in education is important not simply for the sake of poetry, but to ensure that the world-changing power of poetry continues to enrich lives, not just in April, but every month of the year for generations to come.

~this essay first appeared in Poetry magazine, April 2016

Richard Blanco was born in Madrid and immigrated to the United States as an infant with his Cuban-exile family. He was raised in Miami and earned a BS in civil engineering and MFA in creative writing from Florida International University. Blanco has been a practicing engineer, writer, and poet since 1991. His collections of poetry include City of a Hundred Fires (1998), which won the Agnes Starrett Poetry Prize; Directions to the Beach of the Dead (2005), winner of the PEN/American Beyond Margins Award; Looking for the Gulf Motel (2012), winner of the Tom Gunn Award, the Maine Literary Award, and the Paterson Prize; One Today (2013); Boston Strong (2013); and For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet’s Journey (2013). 

In 2013, Blanco was chosen to serve as the fifth inaugural poet of the United States. Blanco performed “One Today,” an original poem he wrote for the occasion, becoming the youngest, first Latino, immigrant, and openly gay writer to hold the honor.