June 11, 2015
The United States has a new champion for poetry.
On June 10, the Library of Congress announced it appointed Juan Felipe Herrera as the nation’s Poet Laureate, a position that dates back to 1937 and is aimed at raising awareness of the reading and writing of poetry. Perhaps most significant in the announcement is the fact that Herrera, 66, is the first Latino poet to be named to the post.
You can read or listen to an NPR story here, but the short version is he’s the son of migrant farm workers and spent much of his earlier life on the west coast. He studied at both UCLA and Stanford, as well as the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. He has since written more than two dozen books.
If you’re curious to read some of Herrera’s work, libraries within the Wisconsin Valley Library Service have some copies you can request. Also, if you’re willing to wait a little longer to receive his books, you can find hundreds of copies through our Interlibrary Loan system. (In both catalogs, search by the poet’s name.) The Marathon County Public Library also has a couple of sites—LitFinder and Literary Reference Center—within our online resources where you can find information about Herrera and past poets laureate, or other authors. (You'll need your library card number and PIN to log into LitFinder and LRC.)
Herrera will serve as Poet Laureate for the next two years, and joins past Poets Laureate such as Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams and Robert Penn Warren. In describing Herrera and his work, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said: “I see in Herrera’s poems the work of an American original—work that takes the sublimity and largesse of “Leaves of Grass” and expands upon it. His poems engage in a serious sense of play - in language and in image - that I feel gives them enduring power. I see how they champion voices and traditions and histories, as well as a cultural perspective, which is a vital part of our larger American identity."
Here is one of Herrera’s poems, excerpted from his 2008 book “Half a World in Light: New and Selected Poems":
Let Me Tell You What a Poem Brings
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.
image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:JuanFelipeHerrera_UCDC.jpg