united states poet laureate

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Can poetry change the world? United States Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera thinks so. But he tells NPR that the change poems can effect in people is often subtle, by nudging along shifts in perception or understanding.

Juan Felipe Herrera On Poetry In Tough Times

And just at the moment when I begin to question whether my voice truly matters… the universe sends me the Poet Laureate of the United States to remind that it does… because it’s Mine, and it’s Beautiful, and it’s Here. Hoy, mañana, y siempre. The universe has so blessed my life over and over…. 💕

LET ME TELL YOU WHAT A POEM BRINGS

Before you go further,
let me tell you what a poem brings,
first, you must know the secret, there is no poem
to speak of, it is a way to attain a life without boundaries,
yes, it is that easy, a poem, imagine me telling you this,
instead of going day by day against the razors, well,
the judgments, all the tick-tock bronze, a leather jacket
sizing you up, the fashion mall, for example, from
the outside you think you are being entertained,
when you enter, things change, you get caught by surprise,
your mouth goes sour, you get thirsty, your legs grow cold
standing still in the middle of a storm, a poem, of course,
is always open for business too, except, as you can see,
it isn’t exactly business that pulls your spirit into
the alarming waters, there you can bathe, you can play,
you can even join in on the gossip—the mist, that is,
the mist becomes central to your existence. 

Juan Felipe Herrara, just reappointed for a second term as the United States Poet Laureate.                 

Odd to be a half-Mexican, let me put it this way
I am Mexican + Mexican, then there’s the question of the half
To say Mexican without the half, well it means another thing
One could say only Mexican
Then think of pyramids – obsidian flaw, flame etchings, goddesses with
Flayed visages claw feet & skulls as belts – these are not Mexican
They are existences, that is to say
Slavery, sinew, hearts shredded sacrifices for the continuum
Quarks & galaxies, the cosmic milk that flows into trees
Then darkness
What is the other – yes
It is Mexican too, yet it is formless, it is speckled with particles
European pieces? To say colony or power is incorrect
Better to think of Kant in his tiny room
Shuffling in his black socks seeking out the notion of time
Or Einstein re-working the erroneous equation
Concerning the way light bends – all this has to do with
The half, the half-thing when you are a half-being

Time

Light

How they stalk you & how you beseech them
All this becomes your life-long project, that is
You are Mexican. One half Mexican the other half
Mexican, then the half against itself.

Philip Levine revealed the poetry in the lives working people, and especially the people and places of his youth — in the auto factories and working class homes of urban Detroit. In a career that spanned six decades, he was a United States Poet Laureate, and winner of two National Book Awards and a Pulitzer Prize. He died Saturday of pancreatic and liver cancer in Fresno, Calif. He was 87.

See our obituary here, and more of Philip Levine’s poetry here – we’ll leave you with a taste of his poem “The Two”

… He’s been up
late, she thinks, he’s tired of the job, perhaps tired
of their morning meetings, but when he bows
from the waist and holds the door open
for her to enter the diner, and the thick
odor of bacon frying and new potatoes
greets them both, and taking heart she enters
to peer through the thick cloud of tobacco smoke
to the see if “their booth” is available. …

– Petra