Juan Felipe Herrera
Juan Felipe Herrera

Poets and Politicians: Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera and Governor Jerry Brown

Governor Jerry Brown named Juan Felipe Rivera, UC Riverside poetry professor and Chair of Creative Writing, as California Poet Laureate on Wednesday, but he's just getting to know the wordsmith. The appointment is a first ever for a Latino in the state and the poet's writings articulate the life experiences of Mexican-Americans. Herrera, 63, was born to migrant farm workers himself and went on to earn bachelor and master degrees in social anthropology from UCLA and Stanford respectively. He received his MFA afterward at the University of Iowa.

Herrera, who arrived at UCR in 2005, has gone on to author numerous volumes of poetry, children's books, and young adult novels in his literary output. Upon hearing of the distinction, the newly appointed poet laureate said in a press release, "This award is for all the young writers who want to put kindness inside every word throughout the state, because kindness is the heart of creativity."

For his part, Jerry Brown is still getting to know his appointee who awaits Senate confirmation before the two-year term begins. According to the Sacramento Bee, the Governor said "To tell you the truth, I hadn't even heard about this poet laureate a week ago." He then went on to conceptually grapple with a line from "Let Me Tell You What a Poem Brings" by Herrera that says of poetry that "it is a way to attain a life without boundaries." The poem was linked from the Office of the Governor's official press release and proved to be a head scratcher. "Life without boundaries?" Brown was reported as saying. "I think the key is boundaries."

The difference of opinion should come as no surprise. Politicians operating in the realm of society are relegated to boundaries that reinforce all its opposing forces whereas horizons define the words and life of a poet!


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