Sitting there, way up high in the balcony of Merrill Auditorium, you had to wonder: have this many people ever assembled, in this space, to hear a poet? Longfellow was gone long before Merrill was built -- and who else, in Maine, could have that kind of draw, could bring close to two thousand people out on a full-moon night to listen to poems?
Richard Blanco, that's who. He who read his poem, "One Today," at President Obama's recent inauguration. He who brought poetry front-and-center on that most auspicious of occasions. He who, as of three years ago, is a resident of Maine. Lives in Bethel. Embraces the Pinetree State. Through the generosity of the Quimby Family Foundation, Blanco was invited to read at Merrill tonight, just a few weeks after he spoke from the Capitol, his words echoing across America. Tickets were free and the house was full, a huge hall full of pride in our newly adopted almost-native son.
Blanco read poems from throughout his repertoire, many hearkening back to his upbringing as a Cuban immigrant in Miami. There was a lot of laughter, and a good deal of wistfulness. Poems about people now lost to us, places left behind, memories washing away. Looking for the Gulf Motel. Mango, Number 61. Mother Picking Produce.
Sitting there, way up high in the balcony of Merril Auditorium, you looked around at the mix of faces -- older, younger, all rapt, all intense, all understanding that this was one more treat Portland had offered up: gathering as a group to hear one of our country's finest poets talk to us, each of us, on a full-moon night.