Inaugural poet Richard Blanco at SUNY-Ulster on Tuesday

Richard Blanco (photo by Joyce Tenneson)

Richard Blanco (photo by Joyce Tenneson)

Odd as it may seem, only three US presidents have ever had eminent American poets read poems at their inaugurals. JFK started the practice in 1961 with Robert Frost; Bill Clinton and Barack Obama did it twice each. What’s up with that? Don’t Republicans like poetry? It’s a mystery for sure.

In a just world, being picked to perform one’s poem at a presidential inaugural ought to be an honor as highly coveted as an Oscar or a Heisman Trophy or a MacArthur Fellowship – a peak moment in a literary lion’s career.

Unfortunately, Richard Blanco isn’t nearly as renowned as he ought to be. In case you missed it, he’s the guy who read his poem “One Today” when President Obama was being sworn in a second time. It’s a lovely piece of work, lyrical and accessible and suitably inspiring, walking the hearer through a day in America while invoking some basic things that we all have in common: sunlight and moonlight, soil and air, sights and sounds, people to cherish and work to be done.

Born in 1968, Blanco was the youngest person ever chosen to recite poetry at a presidential inaugural. The son of Cuban exiles, he was also the first Latino – and the first openly gay person. So after all these firsts, what comes next? Greater familiarity to the American reading public, one would hope. This Tuesday, April 22, you have a chance to know his work a little better, as SUNY-Ulster hosts a free public reading by Richard Blanco in the College Lounge from 1:15 to 2:30 p.m.

This reading is brought to you by the Ulster Community College Foundation as part of its annual Ellen Robbins Poetry Forum. The series was so named to honor the memory of a longtime SUNY-Ulster faculty member; Robbins was the chair of the institution’s English Department for the last four years of her 22-year tenure. This Poetry Forum will include a public reading, an interview and an audience question-and-answer session; the moderator will be WAMC Roundtable and Book Show host Joe Donahue.

The College Lounge is located in Vanderlyn Hall. For more information, call (845) 687-5263 or visit

Richard Blanco reading, Tuesday, April 22, 1:15 p.m., free, College Lounge, Vanderlyn Hall, SUNY-Ulster, 491 Cottekill Road, Stone Ridge; (845) 687-5263,

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