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.


  1. Thanks for the links. I don't know Herrera's work, but love this sample and look forward to finding out more. I do know Jacqueline Woodson's work and think she will make an outstanding children's laureate. Between the two of them I think poetry is in good hands in the US.

  2. I agree, Sally. I taught with Jacqueline Woodson for one semester in the Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and she is wonderful: warm, bright, energetic, caring...a terrific choice to be the Children's Laureate.

  3. After the news of his appointment, I wrote up order cards for some of Herrera's books. I was surprised to see so many books for kids and I thought, "Wow, a children's writer is a big person's poet laureate." With Herrera and Woodson, all bases are covered!

  4. Thanks for these links... I love "the art of flying is the art of writing" in the link about his work for children. I love when the powers that be choose someone unexpected and new to me... what fun discovering!

  5. Thanks for the poem and links, Julie. The poetry community is in some wonderful hands!

  6. Wonderful to have these links, Julie. I went to our library sale yesterday & looked for book by Herrera, but didn't see one. I'll order from the library, too. I'm hoping he will share new voices in poetry.

  7. I was thrilled with both Herrera's and Woodson's appointments. Thanks for the links and poem -- I definitely am looking forward to reading more of his work!!

  8. Thanks for the introduction to this poem and poet.

  9. Echoing thanks, Julie, for this gathering up and sharing - an exciting time!

  10. Great post, Julie! I feel like I know Herrera and his work a little better. Thank you. =)

  11. Glad to see I was not the only one unfamiliar with Herrera's work. After I get those children's books, I'll post something that focuses a little more on it.

  12. Julie,
    What a fabulous collection of resources you have gathered. I especially loved the letters from students links and his answers. I'm going to add a link to your post, if it's ok, into mine, because you have got so much great information! Thank you!

    1. I'm happy to see that teachers are excited, Carol. And I know what you mean about you bilingual students - they make it look so easy.

  13. Wonderful poem. A glimpse of a world so different than mine. Memories so rich with color and texture.

    1. Yes, Herrera really captures this strange experience for us, doesn't he?

  14. Adding my thanks to everyone else's for all the great links and the info about our new Poet Laureate!

  15. Adding my thanks to everyone else's for all the great links and the info about our new Poet Laureate!

  16. Thanks for sharing the poem and links--I too wanted to read more about our new poet laureate, and you're getting me started!