The Academy of American Poets in partnership with the Housing Works Bookstore Café in New York City presents a free conversation series each fall exploring how different art forms engage with poetry. These conversations pair some of today’s most celebrated poets with accomplished artists from other disciplines. On December 10, 2018, the series featured Presidential Inaugural Poet and Academy of American Poets Education Ambassador Richard Blanco and contemporary landscape photographer Jacob Bond Hessler.

Introduction

It’s my honor tonight to introduce Presidential Inaugural Poet & Academy Education Ambassador Richard Blanco and photographer Jacob Bond Hessler who will be discussing their collaborative project, Boundaries, which is both a touring exhibit and limited edition book published by Two Ponds Press. The project pairs Richard’s poems and Jacob’s photographs in a powerful and timely exploration of borders. 

As writer Carl Little writing in HyperAllergic said about the project: 

As the prospect of a controversial wall looms on the U.S.-Mexican border, as immigrants and refugees are caught in an ever-expanding limbo, and as ICE stakes out courtrooms, it is unsurprising that American writers and artists have begun incorporating the concepts of “borders” and “boundaries” into their work…Jacob Bond Hessler and poet Richard Blanco address the subject from a range of angles, using handsome large-scale color prints and poignant words…. (while) Blanco’s poems were prompted by Hessler’s photographs, but they are not ekphrastic. There are no direct descriptive references to the images... Rather, the poems run parallel to the photographs, often adding a narrative to what is a wide-open image.

Together, they investigate the visible and invisible boundaries of race, gender, class, and ethnicity, and challenge the real and imagined lines that divide us and incite prejudice. “Boundaries” is meant to eliminate barriers by revealing their artificiality and oppressive uses, and by promoting greater understanding.  

Richard Blanco is only the fifth poet in U.S. history to be commissioned by a President— in this case President Obama— to write an original poem to be read at that President’s Inauguration. With tens of millions of viewers watching, this is the largest stage any poet in any country can ever have. 

Richard is the author of numerous poetry collections, including the forthcoming How to Love a Country; Directions to the Beach of the Dead, winner of the 2006 PEN/American Center Beyond Margins Award; and City of a Hundred Fires, winner of the 1997 Agnes Lynch Starrett National Poetry Prize. He is also the author of a memoir, The Prince of los Cocuyos, which won the Lambda Literary Award.

Sandra Cisneros describes Blanco’s poems as “Like an old photograph, a saint’s statue worn away by the devout, a bolero on the radio on a night full of rain... There is no other way to say it. They emotion me.”

He is currently a distinguished visiting professor at Florida International University and we are so grateful to have his help in championing the importance of teaching poetry in K-12 classrooms as the first-ever National Education Ambassador of the Academy of American Poets. 

Jacob Bond Hessler is a graduate of the Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, and he holds a master’s degree in graphic design from Parsons, The New School for Design. He worked in New York as a commercial photographer and art director for many years before returning to his hometown in Maine to focus on his fine art photography. Known for his luminous and meditative landscapes. His photographs explore rising seas, industrialized farming, borders, and overarchingly our relationship with, and impact on, the natural world. 

Please welcome Richard Blanco and Jacob Hessler. 

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