Richard Blanco, who speaks at Inauguration 2013, will be only the fifth poet to speak on Inauguration Day. Even John Kennedy was wary that a poet, Robert Frost, would shine so bright as to 'detract' from his own address.
Presidential inaugurations and poets seem like a well-matched pair. The former are supposed to be a time of new beginnings, hope, and inspiration. The latter are people who presumably are skilled at expressing same.
But when second-generation Cuban Richard Blanco steps to the podium during President Obama’s Jan. 21 second-term inaugural ceremonies, he’ll be only the fifth poet to participate in such proceedings. Robert Frost, who read at John Kennedy’s 1961 swearing-in, was the first, as near as we can tell. Bill Clinton had two: Maya Angelou, in 1993, and Miller Williams, in 1997. In 2009 Elizabeth Alexander read her poem “Praise Song for the Day” at Mr. Obama’s first inaugural. Now Mr. Blanco will follow her. That’s it. [Editor's note: Learning to count, we changed the total number of poets, including Mr. Blanco, to five.]
Why so few? Perhaps a JFK story can provide a little understanding. When a friend of Frost’s suggested to Kennedy that the famous poet read at his inaugural, the president-elect first brightened, then appeared to have second thoughts.
“Frost is a master with words,” he said, according to historian Robert Dallek’s JFK biography, “An Unfinished Life.” “His remarks will detract from my inaugural address if we’re not careful. Why not have him read a poem – something that won’t put him in competition with me?”