21st U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera to speak on April 11

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21st U.S. Poet Laureate, Juan Felipe Herrera, will speak at a free public event that includes a poetry reading, performance and conversation, followed by a book signing at the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester on Wednesday, April 11 at 6:30 pm. RSVP The program celebrates the power of poetry and New Hampshire Humanities' Connections adult literacy program. Herrera's visit to New Hampshire kicks off the Connection program's "A Year of New Voices" and also includes a visit to a classroom of international English language learners at the Nashua Adult Learning Center.

Juan Felipe Herrera speaks a new poetry of America, from his experience as the child of California migrant farm workers to his life's work as a poet. He has spoken for and given voice to a wide range of Americans and American experience in his award-winning poetry. A New York Times reviewer writes about his poems: "The fire that appears again and again in Herrera’s poetry exists to illuminate, to make beautiful and to purify." Herrera is also a performance artist and activist on behalf of migrant and indigenous communities and at-risk youth. "Influenced by Allen Ginsberg," his bio reads, "Herrera’s poetry brims with simultaneity and exuberance, and often takes shape in mural-like, rather than narrative, frames."

As Poet Laureate, Herrera created an epic, nationwide poem for which all Americans were invited to contribute a line or two; New Hampshire Humanities has invited him to speak with and inspire the people of New Hampshire.

A mission of the Connections program is to share U.S. culture and language with new Americans and partner with them as contributors to discussions about families, life, and literature in our global world. There is no more essential part of a life than to be in community and be free to tell one’s own story. There is no greater need for humanity than to be able to hear and reflect on the stories of one another, as Herrera's poems offer.

Herrera's work crosses genres; in addition to poetry he writes poetry opera, dance theatre, and books for children and young adults. His picture book, Calling the Doves, illustrated by Elly Simmons, is a memoir from his childhood following the crops in California. His poetry arises from those years: "I would let my voice fly the way my mother recited poems/the way my father called the doves."

His poetry collection Notes on the Assemblage was published in 2015, the year he became U.S. Poet Laureate. It includes "Poem By Poem," which he wrote to honor the nine people killed in Charleston, South Carolina while at church. In an interview on National Public Radio, Herrera said, "Poetry is a call to action and it also is action. Sometimes we say, ‘This tragedy, it happened far away. I don't know what to do. I'm concerned but I'm just dangling in space.’ A poem can lead you through that, and it is made of action because you're giving your whole life to it in that moment.

"And then the poem — you give it to everyone. Not that we're going to change somebody's mind — no, we're going to change that small, three-minute moment. And someone will listen."

In the year following Herrera’s visit, New Hampshire Humanities, through its Connections adult literacy program, will continue to work with adult education teachers to mentor students as writers and poets in a project called "A Year of New Voices." The project launches this fall and creates opportunities in which new Americans and long-term New Hampshire residents can meet, read their own poems and narratives, and reflect on one another’s stories. RSVP for April 11.

Let Me Tell You What a Poem Brings

by Juan Felipe Herrera 

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.

From Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems (The University of Arizona Press, 2008). Copyright © 2008 by Juan Felipe Herrera.


Poem by Poem

by Juan Felipe Herrera

—in memory of Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Hon. Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson. Shot and killed while at church, Charleston, SC (6-18-2015), RIP  

poem by     poem
we can end the violence
every day                     after
             every other day
9 killed in Charleston, South Carolina
they are not 9 they
are each one
we do not know
              you have a poem to offer
it is made of action—you must
search for it         run
outside and give your life to it
when you find it     walk it
back—blow upon it
carry it taller than the city where you live
when the blood come down
do not ask          if
              it is your blood   it
is made of
              9            drops
                           honor them
wash them stop them
from falling

From Notes on the Assemblage (City Lights, 2015). Copyright © 2015 by Juan Felipe Herrera.

Juan Felipe Herrera was born in California in 1948. The son of migrant farmers, Herrera moved often, living in trailers or tents along the roads of the San Joaquin Valley. He began drawing cartoons while in middle school, and by high school was playing music by Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie. One of the first wave of Chicanos to receive an Educational Opportunity Program scholarship to attend UCLA, Herrera became immersed in the Chicano Civil Rights Movement, and performed in experimental theater, influenced by Allen Ginsberg and Luis Valdez. His interests in indigenous cultures inspired him to lead a formal Chicano trek to Mexican Indian villages, from the rain forest of Chiapas to the mountains of Nayarit. The experience greatly changed him as an artist and his work has made Herrera a leading voice on the Mexican American and indigenous experience. He is the author of many collections of poetry, including Notes on the Assemblage, Senegal Taxi, and Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems.                    

RSVP for April 11 at the Currier Museum! Free and open to the public; limited seating.