Thursday, June 11, 2015

Poetry Friday: Juan Felipe Herrera, Our New Poet Laureate

Our new Poet Laureate

Juan Felipe Herrera has just been named the new Poet Laureate of the United States, and I bet more than a few people are scrambling to catch up & read more of his work, myself included. For Poetry Friday, I'm providing some links that might help, plus I'm including here one of his poems for adults. Herrera also writes for children, and I'm going to run up to the public library this afternoon to pick up the four picture books they have available. He also writes for young adults, so his range is large. Click on a few of the links and read about his childhood (not speaking English, traveling around with migrant parents from field to field in California) and about his introduction to poetry (God bless good teachers!) I love how spare the poem below is, how accessible, no game-playing. yet not completely direct. As readers we're left wondering about what has happened, and I always like that in a poem. Poetry, after all, isn't information, it's impression (plus a few other things :-)

I can't wait to see how Juan Felipe Herrera uses this wonderful opportunity to speak to (and for) Americans about the power of poetry.When asked about not being able to speak English with other children in school, he says, "My tongue was a rock." I know that's still happening to children, and I hope they can look up to Herrera as a role model.  Here's his poem "longtime hermano Bob":

longtime hermano Bob          tells me
one of the monks in brown directs us to the deep sink
made of two sinks the hose & the silver table where all
the spoons & metal tongs are clean
wait at the entrance for directions the monk gave me
but he is in there & points me to another sink
made of two sinks & a silver table where all
the spoons & metal tongs are clean
scrub off the rice burned at the bottom
there it is clinging to the sides of the steel
outside working the hole in the earth
three monks in brown stir the blackish pots boiling
four months of mud cakes for the new lunar year
the dragon the people the monastery the mountains
one monk stands staring into the nothing
no thoughts around him
the other monk descends through the scaly fog two
children angle an exploded tree limb back & forth
so the sparks play with them      to the left
the meditation hall is curved & faces Escondido
down below where my father drove his army truck
& pulled our trailer to a stop on Lincoln Road in ‘54
I watered spidered corn & noticed the deportations
little friends gone the land left to ice alone
lunch is served we go to the line the spoons
and the speckled tongs await by the brown rice
white rice eggplant kim chee & a grey shade pot
pour the seaweed soup we go with our tray & sit
the mud cakes are ribboned in red & gold & green
there is a way to do this
it requires listening & seeing &
silence           silence the bell rings
longtime hermano Bob & I      at the parking lot
we leave brown cloth                           brown cloth
naked spoons      naked pots
steam         rises from the sink &      the view
the view with no one           in front or     in back

Click here for a link to a Parent's Choice interview of Herrera which focuses on his work for children. 

Click here for a link to the first part of a three-part interview by David Lau for the Poetry Foundation, in which Herrera talks about working with kids in the schools, political activism, Chicano culture, his own poetic processes, what it's like being a poet in the public sphere (he was previously the Poet Laureate of California) and many other topics. 

Click here for links to a few of his poems for adults available at the Poetry Foundation site. 

Click here for a biography at the Academy of American Poets site (includes links to a few videos of Herrera reading his work.)  

Congratulations, also, to Jacqueline Woodson, our new Children's Poet Laureate! 

The wonderful Jama Rattigan is hosting Poetry Friday today at Alphabet Soup. Head over there to see what other people have posted (and to read a delicious blueberry poem by Mary Szybist.) And I've got another post over at Books Around the Table, questioning how porous "a room of one's own" needs to be - you can read it here.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Poetry Friday: Squirrels, Transcendalists, Talents

I watched a Western Gray Squirrel jump along the fence at my mother's house today - fat little guy, but nimble. It's hard not to like a squirrel, even if it is, by nature, a scold, and even if it eats the cherries from my cherry trees before they can ripen - squirrels are in cahoots with the crows on this. They also bury peanut shells around/among the perennials in my yard - where they get the peanuts, I have no idea, but when I turn the dirt, I find the shells. Still, I like squirrels. Such tails! Such chatter! Such unrepentant self-regard! In their honor, I offer up this poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson, who must have felt the same about the critters. The bottom line of this fable is right there for all to see: "Talents differ."


The mountain and the squirrel  
Had a quarrel;  
And the former called the latter ‘Little Prig.’
Bun replied,  
‘You are doubtless very big;         
But all sorts of things and weather  
Must be taken in together,  
To make up a year  
And a sphere.  
And I think it no disgrace  
To occupy my place.  
If I’m not so large as you,  
You are not so small as I,  
And not half so spry.  
I’ll not deny you make  
A very pretty squirrel track;  
Talents differ; all is well and wisely put;  
If I cannot carry forests on my back,  
Neither can you crack a nut.’

I think I'll memorize this poem, and when things come along that I don't understand, I'll just say, "...all sorts of things and weather / Must be taken in together, / To make up a year / And a sphere."  Thanks again to Mr. Emerson, for transcendentalism and for thoughts on the souls of things large and small.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
 The round-up for today's Poetry Friday is over at Buffy's Blog  (thanks, Buffy.) Head over there to see what other people have posted.