UCR Magazine The Magazine of UC Riverside

Spring 2014

Past Issues

A Traveling Poetry Handshake

California Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera looks back at five of the best moments of his tenure

Lilledeshan Bose

Two years ago, poetry professor Juan Felipe Herrera — already well-known for chronicling the bittersweet lives, travails and contributions of Mexican Americans — was named California Poet Laureate by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Herrera’s term ends this year, but it has been lauded as one of the most active laureateships in California’s history. From the beginning, his goal was to visit as many communities as possible and spread the word of poetry.

Watch videos of Juan Felipe Herrera.

Watch videos of Juan Felipe Herrera.

The son of migrant farm workers, Herrera was first in his family to attend college. This made the introduction of poetry to students who have little exposure to the literary form even more important for the award-winning Chicano poet.

People already have the poetry; they just need a reminder that ‘Yes, this is the time to express yourself,’ he explained. So my main goal was to shake hands with as many people as possible, of all ages, and to reshake them into poetry.

It was his unique ability to connect with everyone, regardless of cultural or educational background, that made Herrera such a great advocate of poetry, said Andrew Winer, chair of the UCR Department of Creative Writing.

By the time his appointment ends in September, Herrera will have created numerous projects to spark inspiration throughout the state. He launched the i-Promise Joanna, bullying-awareness project; he commemorated the Bay Bridge reopening with poetry; and he helped communities heal from tragedies such as the Boston Marathon bombing and the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Throughout his two years as poet laureate, unity has been a common theme and inspiration. “Believe it or not, one poem, one phrase, one word, one voice can be magical. We need unity in these times, and most of all, we need your call for unity to be heard,” he said.

In October, Herrera will present “The Most Incredible & Biggest Poem on Unity in the World” at the California Unity Poem Fiesta.  Herrera is making a call for contributions of original poetry related to the theme “unity”; he will compile them ino one poem that will be read at the California Unity Poem Fiesta at UC Riverside on Oct. 9.

of the
best moments from
Juan Felipe Herrera’s
poet laureateship:

1. “The Most Incredible & Biggest Poem on Unity in the World”


I am burning under the streetlight.
find me.
The streetlight who’s lantern is broken,
see me?
The light bulb was probably stolen
and crushed
into wet cement.
It dries
and when the sun comes up
once again it will shine
as a tile
in the street
leading you to me…

— Laila Tanedo

Whether as spheres or cubes

Animal, plant, microbe, mineral…
We’re all quarter-breeds
Never falling far from the tree,
Whether as spheres or cubes, or as aided
By feathers, leaves, membranes, edges,
Free-fledged or pushed,
The greatest omission is forgetting
That we are all one tribe, one
Species, one existence
On one planet and that

Together we are more than divine






— Stephen Mitchell

Read unity poems

The Unity poem project — Herrera’s biggest as poet laureate — has been soliciting submissions of poetry in the form of words, phrases or stanzas for two years. This “rolling wave of poetry” will be be assembled and read at the California Unity Poem Fiesta on Oct. 9. Submissions to “The Most Incredible & Biggest Poem on Unity in the World” may be sent as a Word document to Herrera at poetlaureate@arts.ca.gov.

2. i-Promise Joanna

Juan Felipe Herrera reading Joanna Ramos i Promise

Joanna Ramos i Promise

Don’t know her she was ten
Fifth grade Long Beach or here
After school when all the fights happen
Dark brown hair & eyes made of light
One fight two girls one lived
One died one clot in the brain
One then two two times
During surgery wake up!
Joanna wake up!
Closed her eyes closed her eyes
Gone now
Little Joanna gone
Who started it?
Who ended it?
Where was i?
Where were you?
Joanna I promise i
Promise it won’t happen

— Juan Felipe Herrera
California Poet Laureate

Read i-Promise Joanna

Inspired by Herrera’s own experiences as the Spanish-speaking child of immigrants, i-Promise Joanna is a bullying-awareness effort. It is named for 10-year-old Joanna Ramos, who died of injuries suffered in the Long Beach fight in 2012. Herrera launched the effort with fifth-graders from Moreno Valley’s Towngate Elementary School at UCR’s Gluck Day of the Arts in 2013.

The effort was made possible with the UCR Gluck Fellows Program of the Arts. Graduate fellows introduced the project with a brief video of Herrera and a classroom poetry activity that invited students to talk about the impact of bullying in their lives and elicited a promise to seek peaceful solutions to disagreements.

3. Bay Bridge Opening

Juan Felipe Herrera reading Bay Bridge Inauguration Poem

Bay Bridge Inauguration Poem, Labor Day 2013, for all bridge dreamers, bridge builders & bridge crossers

Self anchored self-sustaining a light onto itself
This arc that lifts us this arc that sings us as we pass
Bay Bridge — I see you now your new design risen
Above star-waters a new galaxy appears a new trillion
May we live in your safety in your carriage in your heart
May all your hours and all your lights embrace us once again
May we curl across your shoulders as bird-fish singers
May we be the bridge for a new time of beauty and peace
Let us thank the workers — artists of space and matter
One sound one tree one knitted rebozo shawl for our mother
Aloft she turns she protects renewed waves of children
Today we are born to wind-sky steel and turquoise choirs
We are filled with light-strength height-gratitude and violet
Ocean stillness we open our arms our bridge of many bridges
Everything is different now melodic silver harmonious
Everything is open now spiritual inhalation of the Pacific Rim
Voyages migrations the conversations of generations Viva!
The workers applaud now iron-workers painters welders planners
Architects engineers laborers drivers Viva!
Lifters callers crane operators Viva!
Cement mixers cable threaders Viva!
After the earthquake
We shall live — yes
We shall round dance and honor
Spider buggies comin’ up!
Light poles hold ‘em steady steady
Saddle template fit-up
North mainspan cable ready ready
Motion sensors booster pump expansion tank

Spider buggies comin’ up!
Spider buggies comin’ up!
Spider buggies comin’ up!
We shall live in our luminescent loom of lights and cosmos yes
We shall hula dance in expansive unity once again today yes
Hand to hand shoulder to shoulder woven and winged dancer
Bumper to bumper cable rider to cable flyer call it out now
We shall swivel alive golden silver dark sequenced with joy
We shall live crossing into the other from one to the second
From the second to the linked infinity today the chain is cut and we
Are released again Oakland San Francisco earth to all earth
Ocean to sky-wind to star nebulae once again you and me — we
The people the people El Pueblo it is the people Bay Bridge
Hold on to each other move now rise now for the world to see

— Juan Felipe Herrera
Poet Laureate of California

Read Bay Bridge Inauguration Poem

Last year, Herrera participated in a traditional chain-cutting ceremony to celebrate the completion of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge’s eastern span. He read a poem commissioned for the event, “Bay Bridge Inauguration Poem, Labor Day 2013, for all bridge dreamers, bridge builders & bridge crossers.” His poem is displayed in a state facility near the bridge.

Having crossed the Bay Bridge as a child, the event was special to Herrera. “In a way, I came back to that bridge which I crossed as a child. And it is now rebuilt and transformed, as I have been transformed. I came back to it by contributing a poem for everybody — for kids, workers, designers, planners, hard laborers, the ocean, the bridge itself.”

4. Creating Poetry in Solidarity

Juan Felipe Herrera reading Tragedy and Flowering

Tragedy and Flowering

— for those that perished in Orland, California, ninety miles
north of Sacramento, on the 10th of April, 2014

In a white tour bus, of luminous horizons
en route to Humboldt, in search of a dream
at five forty-five in the afternoon — shock, a horn
in flames, a truck of lightning broke the center
ten lives dimmed, five students, two
drivers, three chaperones, now at the edges
of this Interstate 5, we sing, of your clear days
writings, rhymes and cell texts. Yes! We sing
we give gracias for your lives, that radiate still
sisters, brothers — lives of transcendent light
of dawn, of more life, for all, mothers, fathers,
brothers with flowers, sisters with gourds of
rainbow and suns, your souls, crystals, rivers
mountains, you will go on, each and everyone,
will go on, flowering, in all of our hearts,
on these lands and hours of emergency. Yes!
This is why we elect life and voice — today,
we gather the warmth of your hands, books,
laughter and green infinite hope, your breath,
dream-torches that return, rise up from emptiness
from the fields, barrios of the South, you go
toward Letters — we sing with Mariachis, plumed
danzantes. the tender trees of gold do not forget, and
your rain of poetry rains your brave free verses
toward the North, as your familia once journeyed,
we remember you, here, in procession, interwoven
into eternity, into each home, into each university
we harmonize your vision, yours — the first generation
because of you it advances, with you, continues,
ascending, forever ascending

—Juan Felipe Herrera
Poet Laureate of California
UC Riverside

Juan Felipe Herrera reading Tragedia y florecimiento

Tragedia y florecimiento

—para los que fallecieron en Orland, California,
noventa millas al norte de Sacramento, el 10 de abril de 2014

Era un blanco camión con luminosos horizontes,
vía a Humboldt en pos de una esperanza,
cuando a las cinco cuarenta y cinco de la tarde, trueno
y cuerno de flama, otro camión saltó, relámpago,
y apagó diez vidas — cinco estudiantes, y dos
choferes, tres chaperones, y ahora, en los orillas
de esta carretera #5, cantamos de sus claros días, de
sus escritos, rimas, textos de celular. ¡Sí! Cantamos
y damos gracias por sus vidas, que todavía brillan,
hermanas, hermanos — vidas de fecunda luz, de
hondo resplandor y más vida, para todos — madres,
padres, hermanos con flores, hermanas con jícaras
de arco iris y soles, sus almas, sus cristales, ríos,
montañas, ustedes seguirán en camino, todos
seguirán floreciendo en nuestros corazones,
en estos terrenos y tiempos de emergencia. ¡Sí!
Por eso elegimos vida y voz — por eso hoy, juntos,
empuñamos el calor de sus manos, libros, risas y
verdes, infinitas esperanzas, su aliento, sus senderos,
esos sueños que renacen y surgen de la nada,
de los files, de los barrios del Sur, y van hacia las Letras,
aquí, les cantamos, mariachis y danzantes empenachados,
y los tiernos árboles de oro no se olvidan, y las lluvias
de poesía, la suya, derraman sus bravos versos libres
hacia al Norte, como sus padres y abuelos caminaron,
aquí los recordamos, aquí peregrinamos, entretejidos
eternamente, en cada hogar, aula, en cada facultad
armonizamos su visión, tan suya — la primera generación
por ustedes avanza, con ustedes prosigue,
ascendiendo, siempre ascendiendo.

—Juan Felipe Herrera,
Poeta Laureado de California
Traducción, JFHerrera y Lauro Flores

Juan Felipe Herrera reading Fill Yourself with Joy

Fill Yourself with Joy

For Reat Griffin Underwood, 14 yrs old,
Dr. William Lewis Corporon, his grandfather and Terri LaManno,
ambushed and killed in an anti-Semitic hate crime, Kansas City,
Missouri, Sunday, April, 13, 2014. — For their families.

“Why does the sun burn? Why do the hills cry?”
Philip Levine, from “Zaydee”

Fill yourself with joy, sing it, Reat, sing it,
We shall conquer anti-Semitism, hate, all of it
Your life-voice, your life heart, your life,
Un-charted, is here, plainly here, for us
For us, yes, for all, as you sang it to be, now
Your grandfather, Lewis, too, you stand here, full
We shall conquer that hate, in its formlessness
Against Jews, against us, that is, all of us
It has been too long, ancient, to turn away, to drag
Away from it all — you faced it — now, we, here
Thread flowers, the ones for peace, multi-voiced
The ones of writing, art, stillness, piercing love
When I say piercing, I mean, resolute, light
That awakens mountains — is this too much to say?
Too soon? We must gather, as we are, as you
Loved, sang, served, family — the road
We follow, we sing with you — Terri La Manno
We visit our mamas again, somehow, in Village Shalom,
We remember you — you demonstrate the steps
This is the arc of love, all of it, yes, complete
In its circles and spirals and depth, volume
We shall conquer hate, four uneven letters, mumblers —
Anti-Semitism, split skull, that arises to surround
Our kid brother, our elder, our sister, it grins
In front of us, it is here, today, we begin again
To end it
To pay homage
To the brave ones, the good ones
To the ones who were busy joining hands

So we sing, we sing.

—Juan Felipe Herrera,
California Poet Laureate, 4/15/14

the runner

light the spirit
that is
the kindness
to save all
to heal all
through the world oceans
the world weeps
for kindness
the runner
there is no win no loss

— Juan Felipe Herrera
California Poet Laureate

Juan Felipe Herrera reading Little Ones We Carry You

Little Ones We Carry You

Little ones we carry you with our hearts today and tomorrow
Many tomorrows — we will be there with you
Whether we have flowers or poems or prayers
With our hands our bodies somehow
We will touch the earth for you and the rain and the green winds
We will sing for you and your teachers who covered you
And your principal who protected you and your mothers
Fathers sisters brothers all who are one now
We will become them we will become you somehow
As we grow we will grow for you and embrace each other
The songs from your sky hearts will be the songs from our city hearts
Songs lighting your hands will be the songs lifting our hands
Somehow we contain you somehow you are here inside
Go up to the skies touching the infinite now
Little ones we carry you with our hearts today and tomorrow
This is our song
We will end the fire
Let us sing together

(For the children who perished at the Sandy Hook Elementary school shootings, and their teachers, staff, principal and the communities of Newtown, Conn. — 12/14/12)

—Juan Felipe Herrera
California Poet Laureate

Read poems for tragedies

In the past two years Herrera and many of his students at UCR have sent poems of sympathy and solidarity to communities that have been struck by tragedy. There were poems for Newton, Conn., after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School; poems for Boston after the bombing at the Boston Marathon; and to the Philippines after a super-typhoon decimated the island of Leyte.

“Hawak Kamay: Poems for the Philippines After Haiyan” was especially touching; after Herrera started the disaster relief project, more than 1,620 members took part in the Facebook group for comfort and inspiration.

“In a time of crisis, poetry from people’s hearts finds a way to calm the storm,” Herrera says.“As a writer, it’s important to send a message that’s a positive. And every positive action has a positive outcome. So it does make a difference.”

5. “Stars of Juarez: Cuca & Eva”

Juan Felipe Herrera reading an excerpt from To Sing

To Sing

Monologue, scene from Stars of Juarez, through interviews a musical based on the lives of Juarez, El Paso, Texas, singing stars, Cuca and Eva Aguirre, debuted at UC-Riverside, November, 2012.

Eva: (Set in the present, Eva remembers her singing years, at her home, Riverside, California)

After a while
I had to leave the barrio
Because I worked
I used to do everything
Iron, wash, scrub, wax — I did everything
But sometimes they didn’t pay me
Worked all day and sometimes
Without eating. One night
We went looking for work in El Paso,
Me, Elvira and
Juanita Avivar, she no longer lives. But,
There where only men there.
“We don’t allow women here
at these hours and much less
to work!” one said — we thought we
were there to iron, it was a factory. Or
that we were going to cut pockets
for pants. I did that and that is why
my hands are like this — torcidas
twisted from all the pulling of
having to cut pockets all night
because there weren’t any machines
to do that. I cleaned houses. Two, three
houses a day! Got up at five in the morning,
work all day until nighttime, then
back to Júarez the next day, to sing.

Read an excerpt from Stars of Juarez

Herrera wrote this performance piece about three women who were part of the Juarez/El Paso Border Arts Renaissance of the 1930s. Cuca and Eva Aguirre and Elvira Macías are major influences on today’s Latino and Latina performance arts. The poetic variety- show, performed at UCR early in Herrera’s appointment, came up in his interviews for the laureateship. “I told the California Senate that this was one of the earliest post-Mexican Revolution pivots of Latino art, and I wanted to bring this woman’s story to the public. … I was so happy of all the families that came to the performance at the dance studio and that people wanted to come and see it. Our students performed the roles, sang and danced — everyone was very pleased. I wrote the lyrics and the music was by Bruno Louchouarn. That was definitely a highlight.”