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In an interview with CNN, Campbell McGrath, Blanco’s mentor at Florida International University, where the poet enrolled in a master’s program in fine arts and creative writing, said Blanco brought the “structural, analytical abilities of an engineer” to his poetry. “He was able to go beyond the beauty of the words, to look beneath the surface and examine the engineering of the poem,” McGrath told CNN.
Blanco has also said he feels a deep connection to Obama’s personal history and his roots.
“Since the beginning of the campaign, I totally related to his life story and the way he speaks of his family, and of course his multicultural background,” Blanco told the New York Times. “There has always been a spiritual connection in that sense. I feel in some ways that when I'm writing about my family, I'm writing about him.”
Blanco’s first collection, “City of a Hundred Fires,” which explores his Cuban heritage, won the 1997 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize, a prestigious literary award for a full-length book of poetry, and was published soon after. His second book, “Directions to the Beach of the Dead,” also plumbs his Cuban upbringing, while his most recent collection, “Looking for the Gulf Motel,” explores his life as a gay man in a conservative Cuban culture.
According to the Times, Blanco learned of his selection Dec. 12 and began drafting three poems, one of which the Obama team will select for him to read at the inauguration.
“The challenge is how to be me in the poem, to have a voice that’s still intimate but yet can encompass a multitude of what America is,” he told the Times. He wants to write about “the salt-of-the-earth sense that I think all Americans have, of hard work, we can work it out together, that incredible American spirit that after 200-plus years is still there," he said.