Richard Blanco on creating a mental space through poetry

(CBS News) A great deal of prose was spoken at January's Presidential Inauguration, broken up by a moment of pure poetry, recited by a man who traveled a very long road to get there. Seth Doane has his story:


From "One Today":

"One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces of the Great Lakes,
spreading a simple truth across the Great Plains,
then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows."

For a poet - it's the most prominent platform imaginable. But before he performed at President Obama's Second Inauguration, Richard Blanco practiced on the balcony of his home in Bethel, Maine.

He recited his poem "One Today" to a snowman his nephews had built in his backyard.

"It helped me a lot in the sense of, when I was up there, I did think about the snowman," Blanco laughed.

"One Today": Text of Richard Blanco's Inaugural poem

He still doesn't know why the White House picked him to be the Inaugural poet.

"In some ways, I want to know; in some ways I want it to remain a mystery," Blanco said. "I don't want to be disillusioned. I have these romantic visions of, you know, President Obama and Michelle sitting around before bedtime and, one of them saying, 'We should get this guy up here for the Inaugural!'"

On Inauguration Day, Blanco said, it was exhilarating . . . and terrifying.

"There's a moment when the tension gets too thick, you just want to get it over with," Blanco said.

When was that moment? "Right when the announced Kelly Clarkson -- I was like, 'C'mon, girl!'" Blanco said. [Clarkson sang just before Blanco took the stage.]

"When I got to the podium, both the President and the Vice President stood up and very graciously shook my hand. That really also gave me a boost of confidence with the sense that they were almost ushering me, presenting me to America in a very sort of beautiful way."

He was the fifth poet ever to read at a president's Inauguration, and he followed legends like Maya Angelou at President Clinton's inauguration . . . and Robert Frost at JFK's 1961 swearing-in.

Blanco was the youngest, the first Latino, and the first openly-gay Inaugural poet. "I feel like I'm a reflection of the very contemporary America that we're living in," he said.

He had just six weeks to come up with something. His once-serene existence in Maine became anything but, as he worked day and night to craft the perfect poem.

"At first you're like, This is really nice; then the next morning you're like, I hate that poem," he said.