How about that! The U. S. Poet Laureate is Hispanic. Juan Felipe Herrera was part of the Chicano literary movement in the 1970's.
His most powerful words last night were: "We can end the violence with poetry," and he describes himself as a "hands-on poet."
The son of migrant workers, Herrera was a contemporary of Allen Ginsberg and eventually got his MFA from the University of Iowa at the age of 40. He was a professor at UC Riverside which now has supplied him with a room where he can pursue his love of words, art, and music.
He appeared at Rubenstein Library last night to a "full house." On the walls above were past presidents and illuminati of Duke, including Julian Able. The only thing that detracted from Herrera's appearance was the rambling, hard-to-understand intro by a Duke professor.
He included the phrase "waking up is the thing...." Loved that! He advises embellishing one's words with kindness and stated: "You have a beautiful voice and you can use it to express yourself in any way you want." I FELT those words.
His poems take me back to the tales of Tlingits and customs of the Northwest Indians. He spoke of looking at a hawk eye to eye and "there was infinity looking right at me."
He read his poem "The Ant" which I liked a lot.
He read about Chad, how 2 thousand fled, 2 million dead.
He read a poem about Mahammid Ali...there was audience participation. Brilliant!
He spoke of "storm writing" -- writing in the heat of passion and fire. Describes himself as a "hands-on poet."
He wrote a children's book: "Jack Rabbit's Green Onions and Witches' Stew"
Herrera's voice is a poem itself. He is part artist, part Groucho Marx.
I spoke with him afterward about Caesar Chavez -- he never got a chance to eat because he was always chatting with admirers.
Herrera got a standing ovation. His poetry is full of life and humor and audience participation.