Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Poet Richard Blanco on His Formation as a Poet: "Making a Man Out of Me"

Earlier today, I wrote that through his talent as a poet, and through his history and culture, gay Latino poet Richard Blanco gives voice to those who haven't previously occupied the national stage of American history--to people of color, Latinos and Latinas, gay and lesbian folks, etc. Here's Blanco's essay "Making a Man Out of Me," which points out that, far more than Whitman or Bishop or Wilde, his personal history, his experiences growing up in a Cuban-American family, are responsible for his poetry:

I play wrong: "I told your mother not to get you those crayons for Christmas. You should be playing outside like un hombre, not coloring in your girly books like dat maricón Juan Alberto." I speak wrong: "Hay Santo, you sound like una niña on the phone. When is your voice going to change?" And I walk wrong too: "Stop clacking your sandals and jiggling like a sissy. Straighten up por Dios--we're in public." I am wrong ("I'll make a man out of you yet . . ."), afraid to do or say anything (". . . you'll see . . ."), scared to want or ask anything (". . . even if it kills me . . ."), ashamed to be alive.
At thirty-one, I sit at a candlelit table across from the man who will be my husband. I tell him about my grandmother and the coping mechanisms I developed; how they naturally led me to writing; mechanisms that became part of my very creative process. Becoming withdrawn and introverted, I grew to become an observer of the world, instead of a participant. In order to survive emotionally I learned to read my environment very carefully and then craft appropriate responses that would (hopefully) prevent abuse and ridicule from my grandmother. I explain to my husband-to-be that I am still that quiet, repressed boy whenever I am in a room full of people, trying to be as invisible as possible, but taking in every detail, sensory as well as emotional, that will eventually surface in a poem.

The voice speaking to Blanco the child here? His abuela.

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