Dear Mr. Herrera,

I am a 6th grade student and my name is Chali. I have read many of your poems and have enjoyed all of them. My favorite two are “Here and There” and “My mother’s name Lucha.” In both of those poems you have the words placed all around the page which is not the usual form for a poem.

In all of your poems there are a lot of emotions that are going through my head when I read it.

Even though I read it and feel the emotion, the way you position your words also gives me a blast of it. In your poem “Here and There” you say “going into the shadow-shadow then destruction”. Then you have the next line “The infinite light” and you have those words fading away. When the words fade away, it’s like the words are going into the shadows. You position it around the page to give me an image.

In all your poems you don’t use punctuation. I thought that a poem would be dry without periods and other punctuation. When I read the poem out loud not using punctuation it had a different flow then a poem with all the necessary punctuation. Then I heard you read you poem out loud. You kept an amazing flow and did not acknowledge any punctuation.

Something I really enjoy in your poems is how much they make me think.

When you have a title that confuses me, it makes me reread the poem and look at the overall meaning. In many of your poems that I have read, there are words that I do not recognize. I usually would look the definitions up but the other words in the stanza help me figure out that missing word.

I hope you keep writing these poems that are inspirational and amazing. Your style of poetry is very unique and it inspires me to change my point of view when reading a poem. 


Grade 6
Washington, D. C.

Dear Chali,

Thank you for your most encouraging letter—and such fine discussion about my poetry and poetry itself. And thank you for reading so many of my poems, a rare treat. I notice that you have a poetry eye.

One of the most important things in any art is to have to be able to see it in an “artistic” fashion, that is to say, to notice it on its own terms. You noticed my poem by looking at how the words are placed “all around the page.” That is what I notice too—at the same time I am writing the poem. How about that? Moving words around the page is like moving your mind, your heart and your body around a dance floor when you are doing Hip-Hop—emotional and physical. Right? Something like that. This is what I love about writing poetry—it is a choreography more than putting letters on paper. You can even make things appear and “fade away,” like you say. Don’t you think this is magnificent? This is why I love poetry. With or without punctuation!

When talking about punctuation, you mention “flow.” That is another incredible thing you have noticed about poetry and the act of reading it! Yes, Flow. That is the way poetry feels to me, like petting a jaguar while it is leaping across the sky. Flowing. You notice titles too.

Notice that a title is part of the poem, not a label on top of the poem. Good eye. I see a title as a little poem on its own terms, a lead runner in the same race as the rest of the runners behind it. The fact the title is alone, by itself, the first thing you read, it holds a very powerful position in the poem. It then demands a lot of care and challenge to the writer and an opportunity to make things even more daring, intimate, experimental and an additional line for the poem—it’s quite demanding in its own right. However, it is also more playful. I like playful. Try it. Do something with the title that you did not get to do in the poem, for example. Give the reader another road to follow. Like life.

Thank you so much Chali, keep up your poetry life, and dance across the page.

Juan Felipe
Poet Laureate  of the United States 2015–17

read more dear poet letters 2017