“How to Love a Country: Poems” by Richard Blanco— Issues of Our Times

Blanco, Richard. “How to Love a Country: Poems”, Beacon, 2019.

Issues of Our Times

Amos Lassen

“How to Love a Country: Poems” is a new collection from Obama inaugural poet Richard Blanco who here  explores immigration, gun violence, racism, LGBTQ issues and more.  Blanco is so much more than a poet— he is a memoirist, public speaker, educator, and advocate who cares about connecting to “the heart of human experience and our shared identity as a country.”  With this new book, he continues to invite a conversation with all Americans “through an oracular yet intimate and accessible voice”. He looks at the complexities and contradictions of our nationhood and the unresolved sociopolitical matters that affect us all.”

The topics of the poems vary from the Pulse Nightclub massacre; an unexpected encounter on a visit to Cuba; the forced exile of 8,500 Navajos in 1868; a lynching in Alabama; the arrival of a young Chinese woman at Angel Island in 1938; the incarceration of a gifted writer; and Blanco’s love for his partner, who he is finally allowed to marry as a gay man. Even with each poem’s topic they are all struggling with the question of how to love this country.

As he looks for answers, Blanco probes the history and sensibility of the United States and interrogates our past and present, grieve our injustices, and pay heed to the  flaws. He but also remembers to celebrate our ideals and hold on to our hopes. Blanco reveals himself to readers in a disarming and kinetic sequence of stanzas of the poem that is the centerpiece of his collection and in which he tries to find his place in the physical and emotional landscapes of our country.

Blanco’s poems fray the fabric of the American narrative and pursues a resolution to this country’s” inherent contradiction of our nation’s psyche and mandate: e pluribus unum (out of many, one).” The poems “assert that America could and ought someday to be a country where all narratives converge into one, a country we can all be proud to love and where we can all truly thrive.”

Today we are a country at odds with itself and with its history and Richard Blanco’s is one of indignation and insurrection. By writing about the  stories that nurture us and the stories we’d rather forget, we learn anew the ways to love our country and our people.  The poems are
“vibrant, tragic, exhilarating, deeply in love with people and their stories and heartbreakingly engaged with our struggling nation.” Blanco sees America as a work in progress.

Richard Blanco’s new collection is a  hymn of love to those who make America their home and give her their loyalty.

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