Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Poem: Juan Felipe Herrera

Okay, now how many of you have heard of or read the work of this incredibly talented poet, Juan Felipe Herrera? Show of hands. Of course I can't see them, and I know some are waving. But I do wonder, because despite how outstanding and prolific a poet he is, I rarely see his name mentioned in the same breath as many others of his generation. Born in 1948 in California, Herrera has published about 25 books, which include works for children, a novel in verse, and bilingual texts. One of the things I particularly like about his work is its versatility, of subject matter, voice, and form. While he draws frequently from his life, he will also set aloft a conceit like the one below, flavored by and steeped in his experiences yet resonant far beyond his own biography.

Like May Swenson, he can do a lot of different things well, and has been known to move words in very interesting ways around the page.  Herrera finally received some major props in 2008 when he won the National Book Critics Circle Award, becoming the first Latino poet to receive it. Herrera attended UCLA, Stanford, and Iowa, and has taught at California State University, Fresno and University of California, Riverside, where he directs the Art and Barbara Culver Center for the Arts. He has also taught poetry in California prisons, and works with local schools and community colleges in and around Riverside.


(The Guardian Angel)

I should have visited more often.
I should have taken the sour pudding they offered.
I should have danced that lousy beggar shuffle.
I should have painted their rooms in a brighter color.
I should have put a window in there, for the daughters.
I should have provided a decent mountain for a view.
I should have nudged them a little closer to the sky.
I should have guessed they would never come out to wave.
I should have cleaned up that mole, the abyss, in the back.
I should have touched them, that's it, it comes to me now.
I should have touched them.

(From Woodland Pattern Bookstore's site) From Lotería Cards and Fortune Poems: A Book of Lives, by Juan Felipe Herrera, Linocuts by Artemil Rodrígues Copyright © City Lights, 1999. All rights reserved.

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