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Where one inaugural poet lived, another reads

 Richard Blanco

Richard Blanco

What better place for a poet who explores a sense of place in his work in great luscious detail than the Robert Frost Farm?

And that’s just where fifth inaugural poet Richard Blanco will do a reading next Thursday. His appearance is part of the Hyla Brook Reading Series, held from May through September in Frost’s barn. The series features emerging poets as well as luminaries.

“We were really excited when we first came up with the idea,” said Robert Crawford, a Frost Farm trustee and co-founder of the Hyla Brook Poets. “Of course we made the connection with Robert Frost being the first inaugural poet and Richard. . . . So the importance there is to sort of connect the inaugural poets to the Frost Farm, which should be really interesting.”

In January 1961, Frost read his poem “The Gift Outright” at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy. It chronicled Americans’ ties to the land and how early settlers freed themselves from the bonds of the British government.

More than a half-century later, in January, Blanco stood in the same spot and read his poem “One Today,” at the inauguration of the second term of President Obama. He was not only the youngest inaugural poet – 44 at the time – but also the first Latino and openly gay inaugural poet.

Through the poem, Blanco points out that the same sun shines on everyone, no matter who they are or what their walk of life. And in describing the light that shines down the same on grocery store clerks as it does farmers as it does students, Blanco encapsulates the human condition in America, both good and bad.

“All of us as vital as the one light we move through,” he writes. “The same light on blackboards with lessons

for the day: equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined, the ‘I have a dream’ we keep dreaming, or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won’t explain the empty desks of twenty children marked absent today, and forever.”

And in another passage, he talks about laborers and his own history.

“One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat and hands,” he writes. “Hands gleaning coal or planting windmills in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands as worn as my father’s cutting sugarcane so my brother and I could have books and shoes.”

Blanco is no stranger to exploring those themes. In his first book of poetry, City of a Hundred Fires, Blanco wrote of what it’s like to be a Cuban-American. Further, he earned praise for his continued exploration of the ideas of place and homecoming in his second book, Directions to The Beach of the Dead. And surprisingly, he’s not just a poet, but also a civil engineer who makes his home in Bethel, Maine.

Crawford said given Blanco’s high profile, busy schedule and the very small speaking fee officials at the farm could offer, he was somewhat surprised they were able to get him to come and do a reading. Crawford also said that this will be a unique opportunity for those who come to see the event because of the venue itself.

“As a reading venue, it’s very intimate,” Crawford said. “I sort of liken it to a rock star coming back to the first bar that he played at and willing to do a gig for that place. You know his crowds are now filling stadiums, but he’s going to do an intimate reading.”

The Frost Farm was home to the poet and his family from 1900 to 1911. Crawford and Bill Gleed started The Hyla Brook Poets group in 2008. In addition to a monthly workshop, the group organizes the Hyla Brook Reading Series and coordinates The Frost Farm Prize, awarded for poetry. The Hyla Brook Poets’ monthly writing workshop meets on the third Saturday of the month at 10 a.m. at the Frost Farm.

Blanco’s reading is free, open to the public and begins at 7 p.m. The event includes a Q&A session with the poet and a book signing. An open mic follows the reading. It takes place at the Frost Farm, located at 122 Rockingham Road (Route 28), in Derry. Seating is limited to 48 inside the barn. Some standing room will be available outside.

This event is a joint presentation of the trustees of the Robert Frost Farm and the Hyla Brook Reading Series. Other Upcoming Hyla Brook Reading Series events include Dan Chiasson on Aug. 8 and Alfred Nicol on Sept. 12. For questions, contact Crawford at bobik9@aol.com or visit facebook.com/HylaBrookPoets.

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