TEN QUESTIONS of
Juan Felipe Herrera
Juan Felipe Herrera, poet, playwright, founder of four theatre ensembles, talks of his background:
“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”
Juan Felipe is modest…he also was named Poet Laureate of California in 2012 by Governor Jerry Brown. And he is one of the nicest men that I have known.
Below please find ten questions I asked Mr. Herrera that he was kind to answer:
1) What started you into poetry?
Everything – My mother’s songs and riddles and poems. My father’s stories and travels. My travels as an only child – then my friends in high school, Alurista, in particular who became a leading voice in Chicano Arts Movement. My cadre on the poetry streets and rallies in San Diego, LA, SF. — My time at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, my profs, my colleagues, journeys to Mexico, and more – poetry and inspiration is what the universe is made of.
2) What is your opinion of the state of poetry in these times?
Magnificent – the new generations are creating a Tsunami of unimaginable creative forces – I see them at school, contests, readings, poems here and there, poetry clubs, hip-hop dance spoken word hybrid, laureate entries and more – Spoken Word and Experimental existentialist poetry is a major figure as well as exploded lines, multi-media, a hefty mix of ancient, modern and current creation, as well as cross-border and international poetries – poetry has never been so deep, wide and oceanic.
3) What is a Poet Laureate? And what are the duties of one?
I wish I knew. A poet with the laurels of the people for the people, a minstrel, a speaker, a clown and philosopher, an inspirer, a listener and gatherer, a messenger and a anthropoet, lyrical documenter, a defender of people’s expressive rights, a mountain walker and mountain friend, a sun-paddler, a reed of rain, a samba apprentice, a visitor in all homes and terrains, a yes-person to the inner smile of all.
Same. Call out for poetry everywhere in California, make it accessible, make it for all ages – visit six places and plant the seeds, keep in trucking with heart for more heart.
4) What program(s) have you instigated?
a. i-Promise Joanna – Stop Bullying in 4th Grade Project, b. The Most Incredible and Biggest Poem in the World, c. Stars of Juarez Musical (based on documenting the lives of early 20th Century Borderlands Singers), d. Think-B-4-U-Send Smart Phone Stop Bullying Project — (Many more regarding elegies for the living and dead [Sandy Hook, Boston Bombings, Malaysia Airlines disasters, and more).
5) Do you travel all over the state?
Yes and beyond to other states.
6) What do you wish to say to the citizens of California?
Your words are filled with goodness and a friendly heart, pour them into a poem, a phrase, give it to someone and notice what humanity is made of –.
7) What are some biographical details we would find important?
I am a son of farmworkers, my father, Felipe was born in 1882, mother in 1907 — their manifold experience became my experience, I am also a cartoonist, a scribbler, see poetry as life itself.
8) How do you feel poetry can help Californians’ lives?
It heals, it clarifies your life, it deepens your mind and it calls for friendship at its core — Californios need this.
9) Do you think being Poet Laureate has affected your recent poetry? If so, how?
Yes, it has made it more accessible, human and clearer, more open, more in tune with the earth.
10) When your tenure of California Poet Laureate is over, what things might you take with you?
Everything — all the faces, smiles, handshakes, rising voices, the inner search of families with few resources and yet one or two books to take home to read in a circle of love.
Thank you for sharing with us, Juan Felipe.
If you wish to learn more about Juan Felipe Herrera and his writings, check his biography on Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juan_Felipe_Herrera and at his website, http://www.juanfelipepoet.com/
Thank you, James Downs