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).


You can learn more about Juan Felipe at and


Baseball Poetry: May Swenson, Marianne Moore and the SF Giants

Happy Giants Home Opener!

I’m an ardent San Francisco Giants fan. I learned to love baseball as a parent of a Cupertino National Little League player — and now that my son doesn’t play Little League anymore, I’ve transferred that passion to the Giants.

“It’s about
the ball,
the bat,
the mitt,
the bases
and the fans.
It’s done
on a diamond,
and for fun.
It’s about
home, and it’s
about run.”

The first poem I am sharing today is by May Swenson. She’s a favorite poet of mine, because her language is so simple and direct. Nothing too tricky about her poems, yet they still have beauty, depth, and even mystery in them. This poem is called “An Analysis of Baseball” — which, as my smart Monta Vista High School student poets would say, is a a pretty ironic point of view. Be sure to click through the link to see the whole poem in its proper layout.

A longer, more elaborate and especially delightful poem by a famous American woman is “Baseball and Writing” by Marriane Moore. Miss Moore takes much of the language for her poem from sportscasters of her generation. Here’s the second stanza. (The poem reads better on the site. Don’t ask me why I can’t get it to reproduce here correctly.) Make sure you read this one out loud.

It's a pitcher's battle all the way--a duel--
a catcher's, as, with cruel
   puma paw, Elston Howard lumbers lightly
      back to plate.  (His spring 
      de-winged a bat swing.)
   They have that killer instinct;
   yet Elston--whose catching
   arm has hurt them all with the bat--
	when questioned, says, unenviously,
   "I'm very satisfied.  We won."
	Shorn of the batting crown, says, "We";
	robbed by a technicality.
Fanaticism?  No.  Writing is exciting
and baseball is like writing.
   You can never tell with either
      how it will go
      or what you will do;
   generating excitement--
   a fever in the victim--
   pitcher, catcher, fielder, batter.
	Victim in what category?
Owlman watching from the press box?
	To whom does it apply?
	Who is excited?  Might it be I?

– See more at:

The photo at the top of this post is of Miss Moore throwing out the first pitch in Yankee Stadium in 1968.

There are a lot of baseball poems. A lot. I’m not sure what it is about poets, but baseball seems to be their sport. I wrote a poem for my daughter’s softball team which was published in a local journal, The Sand Hill Review, and one for my son’s baseball team which was included in the 2008 California Poets in the Schools statewide anthology.

I also noticed this poem — “Poem for Giants,” by Matthew Zapruder — on SFGate’s website, a few days ago.  It takes you on a bit of a journey, but a good poem will do that.


Go Giants!

Poets Laureate Discuss and Laugh

Even though there is so much to watch on TV these days, what with the Olympics and Downtown Abby, I am hoping you might have a moment to watch this segment of local Los Gatos (CA) TV. My friend Erica Goss, the current Los Gatos Poet Laureate, has a local show called “Word to Word” about poetry. For her first segment this year, she invited me to be her guest. I was nervous and in need of a better stylist (I had to borrow her lipstick, not having any of my own) but she was gentle and we had a good chat.

I’m on the first 14 minutes, and if you want to skip around you can find me discussing my work with California Poets in the Schools (from about 1:00) or mentioning my awesome Mom (4:39) or my plans for being Cupertino Poet Laureate (5:40). I read three of my poems, starting at around 9:06.

I hope you enjoy whatever portion of this you might watch — I find it very hard to watch myself, but my daughter says I have to get used to it if I’m going to be famous. Argh. Personally, I’d rather watch my 9-month old nephew waddle around the kitchen.

Please feel free to share the link in the interests of spreading poetry all over the place.