as if committing an act of treason
faking her enthusiasm for my sake."
McGrath said one of his personal favorites is "El Florida Room," a poem about home and family published in Blanco's latest book, "Looking for the Gulf Motel."
"Not a sitting room, but El Florida, where
I sat alone for hours with butterflies
frozen on the polyester curtains
and faces of Lladró figurines: sad angels,
clowns, and princesses with eyes glazed
blue and gray, gazing from behind
the glass doors of the wall cabinet.
Not a tv room, but where I watched
Creature Feature as a boy, clinging
to my brother, safe from vampires
in the same sofa where I fell in love
with Clint Eastwood and my Abuelo
watching westerns, or pitying women
crying in telenovelas with my Abuela."
Obama's inaugural team has asked Blanco to write three poems, McGrath said, from which they will choose one for him to read out on the steps of the Capitol on January 21 at Obama's swearing-in ceremony.
As though writing one poem that captured all at once the personal and the grandness of the nation were not enough. But three.
He thought of another friend, Elizabeth Alexander, who was tapped as Obama's inaugural poet in 2008 and has spoken to McGrath about the process.
"Usually when you write a poem, you think first of yourself," McGrath said. "Then you envision a close friend reading it. But now you have to think about reading it on the steps of the Capitol with the whole world watching. So you have to think of it differently."
Alexander, the chairwoman of the African-American Studies Department at Yale University, said she was amazed at the amount of mail she got from around the world -- not just e-mails but letters written on paper. "Who writes letters anymore?" she asked with a laugh.
Some were from people who had written America off as a land of money and power, not one that still appreciated poetry.
"I was so struck," she said. "All these people were taking the time to say that a poem had moved them."
In crafting her own inaugural poem, "Praise Song for the Day," Alexander said she had to think about her words in different terms. She meditated on America and the works of bards like Walt Whitman. She thought of the way Obama had been elected president, by what she felt was a language that was grounded, specific and always looking to higher aspirations.