Best Poet - 2006
Richard Blanco speaks like a poet should; his voice is a low, soothing rumble that gives his words the weight of authority. He looks like a woman's dream of a poet; on the cover of this year's The Most Intriguing (and Sensual) Male Poets calendar, his shirt is open to reveal a stretch of tan skin, and his eyes are cast seductively downward. But what makes Richard Blanco our choice for this year's best poet goes far beyond his admittedly attractive visage. Blanco's poetry is powerful, and his poetic journey is unique. It all comes from the unique balance of his brain, which has allowed him tremendous success both in writing as well as engineering, the technically challenging field that pays his bills. Blanco did the poet-as-professor thing in colder climes, at American University and Georgetown University. But he's moved back to Miami now and doesn't plan on teaching anymore. "I realized that I am much more of an introvert than I thought. And being responsible for doing a dog-and-pony show for 80 people every day it really wore me out," he explains. "I came to realize that for better or for worse, a blessing or a curse, I needed to exercise both sides of my brain. I need to do my spreadsheets and my math. It's part of who I am. I really get a kick out of it, just as much as I do with poetry." He spends his days as a civil engineer, consulting for city planning projects. His technical skills are reflected in his poems, which reveal a careful balance of prosaic craft and glowing, tender detail. Blanco's first book, City of a Hundred Fires, was written in Miami and captures the nuances of Cuban-American cultural identity with deft brushstrokes. It won the University of Pittsburgh Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize in 1997. His second book, Directions to the Beach of the Dead, revealed a poet pining for home. Blanco has come full circle back to Miami Beach, but the formerly familiar now seems strange. "Now that I've come back and it's changed -- well, Miami changes every 36 hours it seems -- it's almost like a violation, like, how dare you change without me? I'm trying to stop living off memories, and trying to understand this place on its own terms as it's evolving. Miami as a petri dish has always been an anthropological and sociological marvel," he explains eloquently. Blanco says he returned for his muse, the beach. Evening strolls along the lapping shore fuel his creativity. It will be interesting to see how Miami inspires his future poems. While the poetic side of Blanco's brain finds romance in the city's contrasts, the engineer on the other side whispers fears about a lack of public housing, potential financial ruin, and economic and climactic storms. "There's an overlap between my engineering and the concerns of my poetry. The whole idea of the construct of the city, planning and design -- knowledge that I have from engineering of things that they're doing wrong and not doing.? I fear for Miami sometimes, because it's on the fence. And most people don't realize that," he says in a sobering bass.