Richard Blanco offered area middle school students advice, humor and insight April 22 as he shared his thoughts on writing poetry and read student-selected poems.

Students from Camden, Rockport, Hope, Appleton and Lincolnville gathered at Camden Hills Regional High School in the Strom Auditorium to hear from Blanco, a Maine resident who recited poetry at Pres. Barack Obama's inauguration earlier this year.

“How is it we interpret information from the world?” queried Blanco.

The answer, he said, is “the five senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, taste and hear. Poetry is observing all of the sights, sounds and textures that is our world, so when you read it, your response to it is that you see or smell or taste what is being described.”

Blanco added. “I want you to know where poetry comes from and how to look at and appreciate it.”

The visit was sponsored by Partners for Enrichment, a nonprofit group that provides arts and science enrichment to Appleton Village School, Lincolnville Central School and Hope Elementary School. Students at each school studied Blanco’s work and chose the poems they wished him to read.

The first poem chosen was “Cooking with mama in Maine,” inspired by his experiences with his mother in the kitchen. Blanco said his mother never used a recipe, she just tasted now and again, adding what was needed.

“This is a metaphor for life,” he told the students. “Life is like cooking without a recipe.”

The next poem — “Birthday Portrait” — Blanco explained came from a need to investigate a memory and try to figure out why he felt the way he did at the time.

The final reading of the afternoon was the poem he read at this year’s presidential inauguration, “One Today.” Blanco said the poem was inspired by the spirit of unity in a community and said "we are all in it together."

“America is a nation-village,” Blanco said.

Much like his first assignment in his college creative writing class, in writing “One Today" the question he had to ask himself was “who am I as an American?”

For Blanco, the invitation to speak to younger students about his craft and passion gives him an opportunity to expose them to poetry.

“I think it is important to foster a new generation of readers and appreciators of poetry and to let them know that poetry is a live breathing moment,” he said. “For me it was about creative curiosity, [poetry] makes me investigate myself and life and just being always present and aware of what’s around you.”

Blanco uses experiences from his past as inspiration for his poetry. Growing up the son of Cuban exiles, he witnessed firsthand the struggle of his parents in a new country. He was also able to see the positives in his parents' decision to move to the United States. His parents left Cuba, even though it meant leaving family and friends behind.

“What a strong belief my parents must have had in this country, to leave everyone behind to make a better life here in America,” he said.

At the end, Blanco’s message to the students was to be aware of what is going on around them. Take the time to sense things and create imagery that brings the topic to life, which in turn, will make themselves feel truly alive, he advised.

Camden Herald reporter Dwight Collins can be reached at 236-8511 or