The Greatness of Reinaldo Arenas, the vulgarity of Richard Blanco

By Zoé Valdés (my translation):

The Greatness of Reinaldo Arenas, the vulgarity of Richard Blanco
Richard Blanco

Richard Blanco has various things in common with Ricardo Alarcon, and it is not just his queerness – as he himself publicly describes his homosexuality – but something more along the lines of a name. Ricardo Alarcon (who as far as I know is not queer) did not go by the name Ricardo during his university days, preferring instead Richard Alarcon. At least that is how he demanded that his classmates address him: “Richard,” since he looked down at “Ricardo.” Hispanic poet Richard Blanco (now Cubans are called Hispanics in the U.S.), who according to his own account was named Richard in honor of Richard Nixon and not Richard Alarcon, although it could have well been for the former. When the Abomination triumphed, which they referred to as a revolution, Richard Alarcon, by the work and grace of the messiah Castro I, morphed into Ricardo Alarcon because “Richard” was too reminiscent of the Yankee imperialist enemy. Nevertheless, Richard Alarcon, later known as Ricardo Alarcon, never returned to his real name when years later the Castro brothers saddled him with the mission of being one of the most important spokespersons for the Castro regime before the U.S. government. But that is another story, although the story of Cuba over the past fifty-plus years always has to do with “a mission.”

Let’s get back to today’s topic: According to what he has said in several interviews, Richard Blanco has been a poet for the last two to four years. In other words, he got a late start in poetry. Whenever I hear someone say they have become a poet or a writer, but above all a poet, so late in life, I unavoidably remember the words of a writer who, like the good daughter of a Mambí, never surrendered to Castroism or anything else. Dulce Maria Loynaz, a Cervantes Award winner, would say that starting to write poetry when one was older than thirty was an unbearable obscenity. Poetry is written when you are young or it is not written at all. But now being young is not what it meant before, back when poetry existed.

What we have here is a case where a Cuban American poet has appeared, who he himself says was “made in Cuba, assembled in Spain, and imported into the United Sates.” He was raised by his mother along with a grandmother who, in his own words told to a Spanish newspaper and not in the living room of his home “would have preferred to have granddaughter who is a whore than a grandson who is queer.” When I hear someone repeatedly bragging in public that they are gay – regardless of how many or few the number of times – it means that they are either ashamed of it and are trying to reaffirm it in a stupid way, or they are simply vulgar and rude. Reinaldo Arena did not announce he was gay; as an example he was gay and that was that. I long to be very gay and very promiscuous (less so as time goes by, which is a shame), and I don’t say it, I am what I am and that is that. In my books I am very promiscuous, very womanly, and very manly, comme il se doit. In real life, very queer. So, Richard Blanco, a poet for the last two to four years, at 44 years of age, does not stop screaming from the rooftops that he is gay and everything revolves around that. And that seems to be the reason he was chosen to read a long poem at President Barack Obama’s inauguration. No, not because he is Cuban, but because he is Hispanic. And not because he is a poet – that was not so important since his work was unknown until now – but because he is a gay poet. In fact, I take back the poet part: He was selected because he is a gay Hispanic. The clichés are not mine, they belong to the ones who selected him, although those were not the only trivial reasons they chose him.

Let’s look at this “stupendous” contribution by Richard Blanco, which displays the equilibrium of his aseptic politics:

“Being a Cuban-American from Miami many people presume that I am a hard-core right-wing conservative; on the other hand, as a queer poet, many immediately think I am a total left-wing liberal. I resent these assumptions; and—like most artists, I suppose—I rebel against expectations and stereotypes. Given this, and the circumstances of my up-brining as I’ve just explained above, I stand right in the middle of these extremes—and so does my poetry I believe. I do not vilify nor glorify Castro; I don’t believe Cuba was a “paradise” before or after the revolution; I don’t defend my conservative elders nor do I dismiss their views as preposterous.”

Oh, now I understand. So it turns out that Richard Blanco is just another cynic. Just one more Obamanista cynic. There is no other way to describe it. And of course, that is another reason he was chosen to read that poem at the inauguration. But it does not end there. With Richard Blanco there will be expectations and even plans. He is or is part of the project the current American government has in agreement with the Castro regime. At any moment, we will see Blanco reading his poems at the Casa de las Americas in Havana. This is nothing new, others before him have done it. And no one remembers them. But since I am a masochist, I do remember.

The sudden appearance and attitude of Richard Blanco with his lukewarm points of view, so reconciliatory with a dictatorship such as that of the Castros, more than 54 years in power, more than a half-century of imprisoning and assassinating writers and poets – as seen in the Letter to Fidel Castro left behind by Reinaldo Arenas right before committing suicide in New York where he blames the dictator for his death – is an attempt to erase the profound impact the work of Arenas had on the U.S. and the entire world; Reinaldo Arena’s presence and his attitude of complete opposition. Reinaldo Arena’s political attitude inside and outside of Cuba, no doubt above reproach when he realized it was all dog vomit. For certain, in Arenas you will find a vast body of work, exemplary, compact, which demonstrates this. Statements filmed for documentaries, his memories written and published, Before Night Falls, magically put on film by Julian Schnabel. Irrefutable proof that will be difficult to eliminate so easily like some may believe regarding the collective memory. Through Reinaldo Arenas and the film by Shnabel, the world learned about the persecution of homosexuals in Cuba, the horrendous repression against homosexuals, of poets, and of writers. Reinaldo Arenas was very queer in real life, but he was also very manly in literature, very manly in politics, and he was not afraid to say it in a thousand different ways. And that is what Blanco is missing: Manliness before the irrefutable truth.

When I read these poems, as poetry they are acceptable, but they are not anything out of this world. Nonetheless, under poetic license they are sufficient. But please, what cowardice:

Antonio’s Mercado on the corner of 8th street
where men in guayaberas stood in senate
blaming Kennedy for everything–“Ese hijo de puta!”
the bile of Cuban coffee and cigar residue
filling the creases of their wrinkled lips;
clinging to one another’s lies of lost wealth,
ashamed and empty as hollow trees.

Frankly, at this point I could not care less that Blanco uses these words to describe the exile community in Miami, the same community where he was raised and which he belongs to. I am sure he has his reasons and he has the right as a poet to be as cynical and vulgar as he wants. This includes the right to do it brilliantly, although that is not the case here. What I do find strange is that those who criticized Reinaldo Arenas for leaving Miami for New York, the same ones who criticized his marvelous verses critical of Miami, the ones who criticized Lorenzo Garcia Vega, poet from the Origin Generation, an immense poet who called Miami the “albino beach,” now applaud a person without a body of work, at least not one that is known, an outsider who shows off by spewing lizards and snakes from his mouth against the Miami exile community. None or very few of them who voted for Obama and call themselves Cuban exiles have had the courage to stand up and tear him apart with criticisms as they have done with others. As they criticized me when I wrote “Miami is the graveyard of dead penises” on my blog. Some of them were quite outraged, but I don’t see them doing the same thing now.

The truth is, and let’s not mince words here, from what we have read up until now and have been able to assess, Blanco is a tacky poet, a tacky queer. To title the poem he read during the inauguration of President Obama One Today is the product of intolerable rubbish, at least in Spanish, and he is a Hispanic poet (who writes in English) isn’t he? I do not know how it sounds in English and neither do I know if he wants to say something that is essential to poetic history.

Either way, as Alberto de la Cruz appropriately said, no one really cares that Blanco is a gay asshole and a tacky craftsman of verse. But to many, his foolish declarations are important because although they do not have anything to do with me directly – I was not born nor raised in Miami – that is the city where many Cuban Americans his age were born and raised thanks to that exile community he describes in such an unjust manner in his hokey poem. What is important is that the press has taken individuals such as this as the example that the Cuban exile community has become extinct, that radical anti-Castro Cubans no longer exist. That what is left now of Cuban Americans are individuals like these with hidden belligerence against those who in their time stood up against the aforementioned leftist dictatorship. An attitude that is very trendy now, at least among those in this administration, exclusive supporters of Obama, liberal democrats, who intend to open doors to the representatives of the Castro regime and who have indeed opened those doors. A regime that with absolute power has only built walls and planted hate and destruction over more than half a century. This is the “New Man” not only for the American left, but also for Castroism, for Carlos Saladrigas, and for the opportunistic Catholic Church.

There is nothing to be appreciative about that a Cuban was chosen for this public reading only to represent us in a sensationalist act of stupidity. First of all, this type of Cuban does not represent me. Secondly, damn we Cubans are needy! We always seem to need some type of political recognition to justify our existence.

In light of the work of Reinaldo Arenas, whose vision brought about a change of opinion in America, who for certain committed suicide precisely at the age of 47 (yes, he had the courage), and who changed the usual suspicious course of the American press, no one can come along to impose the typical imbecilic bullshit of lifetime, leftist ass kissers and opportunists.

First, I would bet you that Reinaldo Arenas would have never accepted the invitation to read a poem at the inauguration of a president whose only accomplishment has been to sugarcoat Castroism, throwing daisies to the pigs under the guise of cultural exchanges and travel, loosening the embargo (wait for it, he will lift it soon). A president that either forgets or feigns ignorance about all the repression against blacks that exists today in that garbage dump. Second, consider Reinaldo Arenas’ position regarding the exile community in Miami, a critical position that the majority of the exile community disapproved of, and the same community that today applaud the ridiculous whininess of Blanco. Arenas’ poems are there, his novels, his essays, more present than ever, more translated and published and read, standing in direct opposition to Castroism, in direct opposition to mediocrity and flamboyance.

Reinaldo Arenas, who preferred to die a free man than to live as an enslaved writer. I will say it again and stress the point; he refused to be a slave, of anything or anyone, of any group and under any system, as well as a slave to sickness:


“El hombre nuevo bate su antiguo sombrero de yarey (es terrible el resplandor del trópico)

The new man flaps his old straw hat (the tropical glare is terrible)

y se dispone a sacarse las botas bajo la yaguarana.

El hombre nuevo espanta un mosquito con sus manos torpes.

El hombre nuevo dormita tras el tronco de la yaguarana (lo siento, pero no hay otro árbol)

como un cocodrilo legendario.

Le están saliendo pequeños garfios en las manos al hombre nuevo.

/Son los guantes naturales que Dios, piadoso, concede

/siempre al esclavo.

Le están saliendo algunas manchas en la cara al hombre nuevo.

Son los resistentes colores que Dios, piadoso, concede

siempre al esclavo.

Le están saliendo extrañas corazas en los pies al hombre nuevo.

Son magníficas herraduras que Dios, piadoso, concede

siempre al esclavo.

El hombre nuevo está perdiendo el habla, la memoria, ya no ve.

Son los invariables privilegios que Dios, piadoso,



al esclavo.”

(A fragment from the poem Morir en junio y con la lengua afuera (Ciudad) (To Die in June and with Your Tongue Hanging Out), taken from the book Leprosorio (Poetic Trilogy) by Reinaldo Arenas, Betania, 1990).

There is nothing worse than being born and raised in liberty, with all the agony the parents must have endured to obtain it, only to willfully choose slavery as a career. Or even worse, to be purchased by the lowest bidder and to absentmindedly enjoy fifteen minutes of an unearned glory.

Zoé Valdés.
Reinaldo Arenas



11 thoughts on “The Greatness of Reinaldo Arenas, the vulgarity of Richard Blanco

  1. I essentially agree, but I’ll elaborate on my take: I think Blanco is a Johnny-come-lately who hasn’t paid his literary dues and is putting on “artist” airs he hasn’t earned and doesn’t deserve, certainly not at this point, which is poor taste if nothing else. I think he’s trying to compensate for lost time and/or strike while the iron is apparently hot. Of course, he may simply be full of himself and unable or unwilling to restrain that. I also think he knows he can get mileage out of being a relatively exotic (read mediaphilic) package: a “queer” youngish liberal Cuban-American, so he’s pushing hard on those buttons, vulgarity be damned. The political fence-sitting regarding the Cuba issue strikes me as both typical and trying to eat your cake and have it, too–which is always dubious at best. At this very late date, with Cuba’s destruction and wretchedness inescapably evident, such ambivalence or “confusion” about what Castro, Inc. has wrought is not only in bad taste but obscene–no matter how conveniently PC, especially coming from a Cuban.

  2. In case anyone wonders, Zoé Valdés is anything but homophobic. She reveres Arenas, and her brother happens to be gay. She is also a poet of long standing herself, although she’s best known for her prose works.

  3. I agree, borderline artist, his 15 minutes are up. He is playing the ‘queer” card to the hilt. (No pun intended)

  4. “Ashamed and empty as hollow trees.” Do tell. There are those who’d suspect projection here, but you know how “those people” are.

  5. asombra,

    Por favor, no le eches una peceta a la vitrola…lol

    Please don’t put a quarter in the jukebox…

  6. That fence-sitting approach will be a seller among the pathetic shits that now pollude our community. Whether it’s the Cubanoids, or the younger second and third generation Cuban-Americans raised on leftist indoctrination there and here, the ‘balanced’ view will soothe what’s left of their conscious. He’s selling that snake-oil bullshit, but I’m sure he has no deep problems with the ‘workers paradise’ and will fully support all of the Democrat’s pro-Castro policies. Obama and the left now have another nuanced messenger to help finally destroy what our colleague Asombra has so aptly labeled ‘those people’. We (‘those people’) are on the same hit list as the Republican Party, talk radio, Fox News, or anyone else that stands in their way. Oh, and don’t forget that certified Cuban Exile hater Fulton Armstrong will be coming over to the State Department soon – won’t that be a lot of fun.

  7. I can’t take credit for “those people” because that’s Bill Clinton’s phrase, the one he used during the Elián crisis, just as he called Monica Lewinsky “that woman” when he was trying to dismiss her as an affront to his immaculate innocence, the poor man. Simple but very telling phrasing, and quite unforgettable, though not precisely the way he intended.

  8. It seems clear to me that Blanco “tiene su(s) complejo(s),” and that’s showing. True, most everybody has “issues,” but some issues are more dysfunctional and objectionable than others. This whole business strikes me as another instance of Esau Syndrome, which is hardly limited to Cubans (as the name implies) but invariably distasteful, not to say repulsive.

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