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New U.S. Poet Laureate is the First Latino

June 10, 2015
Plain English Version
Juan Felipe Herrera

Juan Felipe Herrera

Poetry is to be read and listened to. Many enjoy the poems of Juan Felipe Herrera. Now, more people will know about him. He has been named the United States Poet Laureate.

The U.S.-born Herrera is the first Latino awarded the post.

“I see in Herrera’s poems the work of an American original,” said the head of the Library of Congress. It reminds one of Walt Whitman’s volume “Leaves of Grass.”

He continued,”His poems engage in a serious sense of play, in language and image, that I feel gives them enduring power.”

Mr. Herrera was born in Fowler, California in 1948. He is the son of migrant farm workers. As a child, he lived in tents and trailers as his family moved around the state.

In high school, he fell in love with the poetry of Boris Pasternak. “I wanted to write poems like that,” he said.

In college, he joined the Chicano civil rights movement. He worked in the movement as he continued his schooling.

He earned a Master of Fine Arts degree while attending the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He graduated at 40 years of age. His career was off and running.

An expert said, “He is a poet who really started in the trenches.”

His appointment comes as the country is debating immigration reform. Two of his books, “Border-Crosser with a Lamborghini Dream” and “187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross the Border,” are about that theme.

In the poem “Every Day We Get More Illegal” (2011), he writes:

Yesterday homeless &
w/o papers Alberto
left for Denver a Greyhound bus he said
where they don’t check you.

Mr. Herrera recently retired as a professor at the University of California, Riverside. He said he would encourage young poets to find their voices.

Source: The New York Times June 10, 2015


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