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Herrera2Welcome to Ask a Poet, where each week we will present (in no particular order) a Q&A with a poet who will be coming to the Dodge Poetry Festival this October 20-23. Through these blogs, you’ll be able to get to know these poets a bit better in preparation for #DPF16! 

Now, let’s talk to our nation’s Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera!


What are you reading? 

Everyone talks about Basho, poet during the Japanese Edo Period — now I join them. For me it is key to read him, the master of the haiku and more than that, a master of the insight of life-nature-universe.

Robert Hass, the late C.D. Wright, both friends and magnificent poets, thinkers — and Tom Lutz with his new book, a traveler, like Basho — Drinking Mare’s Milk on the Roof of the World.

When did you first discover poetry?  What poets made you want to write poetry?

Sixteen is the diamond year — teen power. San Diego High School, choir, guitar, painting, sculpture and poetry!

What is something you have recently discovered about poetry?

Poetry can heal others’ hearts, even if it is just for a few minutes and it can move others to write poetry too. It is the key to our new generation. Every teen loves to recite out loud all the new rhythms of the poetry-drum.

With all the other demands and distractions in life, how do you make time for poetry?

You have to sneak it into everything you do — you must not wait. Write on the back of an envelope, in a taxi, at the car dealer, waiting to get your rotten tooth yanked out, or just simply while you are cleaning your dogs spud-shaped paws.

What is the role of poetry in the twenty first century?

To transform it. If you become more insightful as you write, the world becomes more insightful too.

What is a misconception about poetry that bothers you? Why?

Everyone thinks poetry is poetry. It is not. Poetry is your life and it is the life of every human being. Otherwise we cannot live a full human life, if we do not sing from the deepest regions of our hearts.

How important is accessibility of meaning? Should a reader have to work hard to “solve” the poem? 

It does not matter.  Work hard too get rid of all your misconceptions. Become free. A poem is the first step.


Juan Felipe Herrera was born in California to migrant farmers. He received a BA from UCLA, an MA from Stanford and an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Herrera’s poetry collections include Notes on the Assemblage (2015); Senegal Taxi (2013); Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems (2008), recipient of the PEN/Beyond Margins Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award; 187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross The Border: Undocuments 1971–2007 (2007); and Crashboomlove: A Novel in Verse (1999), which received the Americas Award. His nonfiction work Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes (Dial) was published in 2014. His prose children’s books include Calling The Doves (2001), which won the Ezra Jack Keats Award and Upside Down Boy (2006), which was adapted into a musical. Herrera has received fellowships and grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference, the California Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Stanford Chicano Fellows Program, and UC Berkley. He has won the Hungry Mind Award of Distinction, the Focal Award, the Latino Hall of Fame Poetry Award, a PEN West Poetry Award and the Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement. He taught at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and UC Riverside and was chair of the Chicano and Latin American Studies Department at CSU-Fresno. He was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2011. Herrera served as California’s Poet Laureate (2012—2014) and, in 2015, was named Poet Laureate of the United States, the first Mexican-American to hold the position. He has five children and lives in California with his partner, poet and performance artist Margarita Robles.


Stay updated on the 2016 Dodge Poetry Festival as information becomes available!


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