Half the World in Light: New and Selected Poems

In Half the World in Light, the import of Juan Felipe Herrera’s nearly forty years of work is on full display, and there is no adjective to describe the immensity of it. Reinventing himself from book to book and even poem to poem, he is a virtuoso of language and society, as in this poem, "Enter the Void" about the conflict on the West Bank:

Sit on the embankment,
a dust fleece, there is a tidal wave ahead of me.

It will never reach me. I live underground, under the Dead Sea,
under the benevolent rocks and forearms and
mortar shells and slender naked red green
torsos, black,
so much black.
en route:

this could be a train, listen:
it derails into a could.

Herrera’s poetry, which often explores the Chicano experience in the United States, is based in societal and religious imagery and flowers into a universal voice of exile, conflict, and community. Half the World in Light incorporates textual play akin to E. E. Cummings, political fervor reminiscent of Allen Ginsberg, and subtly terrifying imagery to rival Sylvia Plath, such as the complicated class implications of "the clinic / awaits us all." The book also draws Spanish, sometimes untranslated, into the alluring web of language. The book includes a CD of Herrera skillfully and casually reading a wide selection of poems from the collection.

This book review originally appeared in American Poets.