Promoting poetry: Juan Felipe Herrera, Poet Laureate of California

Jim Lunde, Staff Reporter

Juan Felipe Herrera, Poet Laureate of California, presented his poetry reading with a sense of humor.

Everyone enjoyed the poetry reading and reception on April 24 in the California History Center at De Anza College.

Herrera has won multiple awards for his poetry and performance art.

He is an activist for youth, migrant and indigenous communities.

Herrera describes himself  as  a humanist. “I’m for the human being” he said.

Tom Izu, Executive Director of the California History Center, said “Juan is so dynamic with lots of humor and compassion, yet he deals with a lot of serious issues too.”

Herrera was accompanied by Francis Wong, a jazz saxophonist and composer. The two met at Stanford  in the late 1970s and was described by Herrera “He’s an all around man.”

Later he had a change of pace with upside down poems where the poem was read first and the title last.

The audience recited the last upside down poem along with Herrera.

Before he arrived at De Anza, he met with students at Fremont High School. He encouraged the students to be creative.

He explained students have a beautiful voice and should not be afraid to use it.

Herrera sees writing as a platform for the mind to expand.

Herrera also focused on the unity of all beings, all languages and all cultures.

“If our poems don’t have humanity in them, what are they for?” Herrera said.  “You can express yourself with poetry politically without offending someone who doesn’t agree.”

The afternoon was finished with a reading of a poem titled “I’m A Rice And Beans Kid,” dedicated to the students of Fremont High and De Anza College.

He taught at De Anza College as a part time English instructor  from 1986-1988.

He is now teaching at the University of California, Riverside.

Herrera ended the poetry reading as he said “Let’s open our arms with poetry as human beings.”