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About this poet

Juan Felipe Herrera was born in Fowler, California, on December 27, 1948. The son of migrant farmers, Herrera moved often, living in trailers or tents along the roads of the San Joaquin Valley in Southern California. As a child, he attended school in a variety of small towns from San Francisco to San Diego. He began drawing cartoons while in middle school, and by high school was playing folk music by Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie.

Herrera graduated from San Diego High in 1967, and was one of the first wave of Chicanos to receive an Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) scholarship to attend UCLA. There, he became immersed in the Chicano Civil Rights Movement, and began performing in experimental theater, influenced by Allen Ginsberg and Luis Valdez.

In 1972, Herrera received a BA in Social Anthropology from UCLA. He received a masters in Social Anthropology from Stanford in 1980, and went on to earn an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop in 1990.

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. His work, which includes video, photography, theater, poetry, prose, and performance, has made Herrera a leading voice on the Mexican American and indigenous experience.

Herrera is the author of many collections of poetry, including Senegal Taxi (University of Arizona Press, 2013); Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems (University of Arizona Press, 2008), a recipient of the PEN/Beyond Margins Award; 187 Reasons Mexicanos Can't Cross The Border: Undocuments 1971–2007 (City Lights, 2007); and Crashboomlove (University of New Mexico Press, 1999), a novel in verse, which received the Americas Award.

His books of prose for children include: SkateFate (Rayo, 2011) Calling The Doves (Children's Book, 2001); Upside Down Boy (2006), which was adapted into a musical in New York City; and Cinnamon Girl: Letters Found Inside a Cereal Box (HarperCollins, 2005), which tells the tragedy of 9/11 through the eyes of a young Puerto Rican girl.

Ilan Stavans, the Mexican American essayist, has said: "There is one constant over the past three decades in Chicano literature and his name is Juan Felipe Herrera. Aesthetically, he leaps over so many canons that he winds up on the outer limits of urban song. And spiritually, he is deep into the quest that we all must begin before it is too late."

In a profile of Herrera in The New York Times, Stephen Burt wrote: "Many poets since the 1960s have dreamed of a new hybrid art, part oral, part written, part English, part something else: an art grounded in ethnic identity, fueled by collective pride, yet irreducibly individual too. Many poets have tried to create such an art: Herrera is one of the first to succeed."

Herrera has received fellowships and grants from the Breadloaf Writers' Conference, the California Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Stanford Chicano Fellows Program, and the University of California at Berkeley.

Over the past three decades, he has founded a number of performance ensembles, and has taught poetry, art, and performance in community art galleries and correctional facilities. He has taught at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop and served as chair of the Chicano and Latin American Studies Department at CSU-Fresno.

Herrera currently holds the Tomás Rivera Endowed Chair in the Creative Writing Department at UC Riverside. He is also director of the Art and Barbara Culver Center for the Arts, a new multimedia space in downtown Riverside, California. He was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2011.

He is the father of five children, and lives in Fresno, California, with his partner, the poet and performance artist, Margarita Robles.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Senegal Taxi (University of Arizona Press, 2013)
Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems (University of Arizona Press, 2008)
187 Reasons Mexicanos Can't Cross The Border, Undocuments 1971-2007 (City Lights, 2007)
Notebooks of a Chile Verde Smuggler (University of Arizona Press, 2002)
Giraffe on Fire: Poems (2001)
Thunderweavers (University of Arizona Press, 2000)
Border-Crosser with a Lamborghini Dream (University of Arizona Press, 1999)
CrashBoomLove: A Novel in Verse (University of New Mexico Press, 1999)
Loteria Cards & Fortune Poems (City Lights, 1999)
Mayan Drifter: Chicano Poet in the Lowlands of America (Temple University Press, 1997)
Love After the Riots (Curbstone, 1996)
Night Train to Tuxtla: New Stories and Poems (University of Arizona Press, 1994)
Memoria(s) from an Exile's Notebook of the Future (Santa Monica College, 1993)
Akrílica (Alcatraz Editions, 1989)
Facegames (Dragon Cloud, 1987)
Exiles of Desire (Arte Publico, 1985)
Poetry Rebozos of Love (Tolteca, 1974)

Children’s Literature

SkateFate (Rayo, 2011)
Cinnamon Girl: Letters Found Inside a Cereal Box (Harper Collins, Joanna Cotler Books / Tempest, 2005)
Downtown Boy (Scholastic, 2005)
Cilantro Girl / La Superniña del Cilantro (Children's Book Press, 2003)
Grandma & Me at the Flea / Los Meros Meros Remateros (Children’s Book Press 2002)
The Upside Down Boy/El Nino de Cabeza (Lee & Low Books, 2000)
Calling the Doves / Canto a Las Palomas (Children's Book Press, 1995)

You & I Belong in This Kitchen

Juan Felipe Herrera, 1948
longtime hermano Bob          tells me
one of the monks in brown directs us to the deep sink
made of two sinks the hose & the silver table where all 
the spoons & metal tongs are clean
wait at the entrance for directions the monk gave me
but he is in there & points me to another sink
made of two sinks & a silver table where all 
the spoons & metal tongs are clean
scrub off the rice burned at the bottom 
there it is clinging to the sides of the steel
outside working the hole in the earth
three monks in brown stir the blackish pots boiling
four mouths of mud cakes for the new lunar year
the dragon the people the monastery the mountains
one monk stands staring into the nothing
no thoughts around him 
the other monk descends through the scaly fog two
children angle an exploded tree limb back & forth
so the sparks play with them      to the left 
the meditation hall is curved & faces Escondido 
down below where my father drove his army truck
& pulled our trailer to a stop on Lincoln Road in ‘54
I watered spidered corn & noticed the deportations
little friends gone the land left to ice alone
lunch is served we go to the line the spoons
and the speckled tongs await by the brown rice
white rice eggplant kim chee & a grey shade pot
pour the seaweed soup we go with our tray & sit 
the mud cakes are ribboned in red & gold & green 
there is a way to do this 
it requires listening & seeing &
silence           silence the bell rings
longtime hermano Bob & I      at the parking lot
we leave brown cloth                           brown cloth
naked spoons      naked pots
steam         rises from the sink &      the view
the view with no one           in front or     in back

Copyright © 2012 by Juan Felipe Herrera. Used with permission of the author.

Copyright © 2012 by Juan Felipe Herrera. Used with permission of the author.

Juan Felipe Herrera

Juan Felipe Herrera

Born in Fowler, California, on December 27, 1948, Herrera is director of the Art and Barbara Culver Center for the Arts, a multimedia space in downtown Riverside, California. He was elected an Academy Chancellor in 2011.

by this poet

poem
see my brother-in-law with a styled shirt

in spite of his cancer below 

then a small dinner in the evening the next day

no one knows except I may be on the road

Mesquite where my father settled in '31

forty-five minutes west then a left you go in

sister Sarita waits for me on Abby Street

after decades in
poem
1. Go back to the grain yellow hills where the broken speak of elegance
2. Walk up to the canvas door, the short bed stretched against the clouds
3.
poem

For Albert Goldbarth & Margarita Robles


Are you going to steal lines collect
manual typewriters 8 miles high the serotonin Albert
Goldbarth mentions the sugary night the howling
speeding most of all are you going to hobble here—