California’s Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera

Again today I am lucky in my search for a great poem and poet to share on the Cupertino Poetry Exchange. Juan Felipe Herrara is the current California Poet Laureate — and if ever there was a cheerleader for poetry, this is the guy.

Earlier this week, Central Coast Public Radio, KUSP, hosted an interview with Juan Felipe on their Poetry Show. (Can we all just pause in wonder and admiration right now for a radio show with a “poetry show”???!!!)

It’s a delightful interview and Sr. Herrera also reads a couple of his poems. So, please, take a break, listen to the interview and poetry, and if you want more information about what this amazing energizer bunny for poetry is doing, visit his website and explore his projects. Here’s what he says about his life:

I grew up on the farm worker migrant trail. Marshall Elementary in SF, San Diego High. Attended UCLA, Stanford and the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Write in many genres. Twenty-nine books. Have received a number of awards, most recent the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Guggenheim Fellowship. Abundant gratitude to my parents, families, teachers and students on many roads. Trees, animals, rivers and clouds. Gracias.

Let Me Tell You What a Poem Brings

By Juan Felipe Herrera

for Charles Fishman

Before you go further,
let me tell you what a poem brings,
first, you must know the secret, there is no poem
to speak of, it is a way to attain a life without boundaries,
yes, it is that easy, a poem, imagine me telling you this,
instead of going day by day against the razors, well,
the judgments, all the tick-tock bronze, a leather jacket
sizing you up, the fashion mall, for example, from
the outside you think you are being entertained,
when you enter, things change, you get caught by surprise,
your mouth goes sour, you get thirsty, your legs grow cold
standing still in the middle of a storm, a poem, of course,
is always open for business too, except, as you can see,
it isn’t exactly business that pulls your spirit into
the alarming waters, there you can bathe, you can play,
you can even join in on the gossip—the mist, that is,
the mist becomes central to your existence.

 

I was very very fortunate to meet Sr. Herrera first at a California Poets in the Schools symposium last summer, and then to work with him again in March at the California State Poetry Out Loud Championship events in Sacramento. Here’s a photo of me (in the middle) with Brandon Cesmat (to the left, former CPitS board member) and Juan Felipe (shocked and amazed by the amazing students poetry performers and our exhaustion).

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You can learn more about Juan Felipe at Poets.org and PoetryFoundation.org.

 

Al Young & Gabriel Garcia Marquez (PAD #28)

Al Young is California Poet Laureate Emeritus. He’s a huge spirit, a deep soul, a purposeful poet. Read one of my favorite poems by him, “Birthday Poem” at the Poetry Foundation. I love especially these last two stanzas, and especially on this day, over this weekend, when I’m remembering how the suffering of each of us, through compassion, empathy and imagination, can be remembered and experienced by all. This I see as the function of art.

How I got from then to now
is the mystery that could fill a whole library
much less an arbitrary stanza
 
But of course you already know about that
from your own random suffering
& sudden inexplicable bliss

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This entry on Al Young’s blog offers a variety of thoughts about and images of the late great Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

One of the delights he’s collected is this interview with Isabele Allende about how Marquez “gave us back our history” — meaning primarily the history of the people of Central and South America, but also, I think, the history of anyone who chooses to re-imagine a history other than that which is told by the conquerors.

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There are many photos of Marquez in the press now, some in which he’s obviously frail but sporting a lovely yellow rose in his lapel. Some show him flipping off the camera. I like this one (above). I think I understand what it means to wear a book on your head. To wander around in life, worried that those words might clatter to the ground in a pile of pages and board, to lose your mind.

Rest in peace, Sr. Marquez. Thank you for the gifts of your imagination and your hard work. Rock on Al Young, keep telling us like it is.

(For your poem-a-day prompt, try writing a poem in which you address both your random suffering and sudden inexplicable bliss. That should keep you busy.)