I probably should use my Pandemic slot last, as you can fill in anything you want, but at the same time, How to Love a Country: Poems is the perfect book for it. I am planning on using poetry for another slot, but Richard Blanco’s collection does not seem to fit another category, so here he is and I get to a) use poetry more than once and b) introduce you to a (possible) new poet that I would never have heard of if I hadn’t by chance found him.
This is contemporary poetry. Broken into sections, we follow the journey of Blanco as he tells us “after the fact” what he knows, learns and is part of. Contemporary issues and events, along with pieces of history unfold before our eyes as Blanco makes them come alive on the page. Some poems are straightforward, others are less so. He talks about being gay, learning how to “come out” to himself, writing letters of apologies to the boy he bullied. He talks about being an immigrant and what it means to be the child of (double) immigrants (first exiled from Cuba to Spain, then to the states). He talks about being a historical speaker at a prestigious event. He talks about lovers, haters and even events not directly aimed at him, but how they affect him and the country.
This is not a book for all poetry lovers, or lovers of the written word, but it is an interesting collection of story poems. Also, it is not for the casual reader. It might not even be a book that stands the test of time. He talks about Sandy Hook and the Pulse shooting. Sadly, in five years who will remember them. I hope people will, not because we have another event like it, but because we just should not forget. Heal? Yes. Forget? No.
I would like to think that even though these poems are personal (not “selfish” or “self-centered,” but “self-focused”), Blanco wants the reader to relate, to see a piece of themselves and to see their neighbors. This is his love letter to a country that is not perfect, but despite the bad things, can be pretty awesome, too.