LEE HERRICK COMES TO BAKERSFIELD
Lee Herrick, the current poet laureate of California, gave a wonderful writer’s workshop at the
Beale Library in Bakersfield on Saturday, July 29, 2023.
There was a gathering of folks of all ages and backgrounds sitting at tables in the Beale
Auditorium, eagerly awaiting Herrick to speak. The library stocked the tables with all sorts of
supplies to enhance creativity: paper, markers, crayons, and books to browse through and take
Fahra Daredia, the Marketing and Promotions Associate II with Kern County Library, came to
the microphone and introduced Herrick. She also graciously announced she would be willing to
take any interested persons on a tour of the library after the event was over.
Then Herrick took the stage. He explained that he was born in Korea in Daejeon- the same home
town as Portia Choi, (known to many of us as Bakersfield’s “Poetry Lady!”). Herrick told how
he was adopted at the age of 10 months and his new parents flew him halfway around the world
to California. He grew up in Modesto and now resides in Fresno with his family, where he
teaches writing at Fresno City College and in the MFA program at University of Nevada Reno at
Lake Tahoe. He was poet laureate of Fresno from 2015-2017.
Herrick said “I am deeply honored, humbled, and excited to have been named California Poet
Laureate by Governor Gavin Newsom.” His project as Poet Laureate is “Our California” – an
opportunity for writers of all ages across the state to contribute their poetry about their towns or
cities – their own unique experiences of California – which will be posted on the California Arts
“There are 40 million people in California,” Herrick said. “Imagine all of their perspectives!”
Herrick challenged all of us present to “Write Your Fire.” He encouraged us to believe that each
of us has something worth sharing.
“No one has had your experiences,” he said. “If you can access that, it will make your poetry
What is the writer’s fire? As Herrick explained to us, reading from his thoughtfully provided
handout, “a writer’s fire is a main source of heat. It usually relates to a major life incident,
experience, or circumstance. It usually occurred in the first five or ten years of life, although it
can have occurred in adulthood as well. Most people have one main fire, although there may be
Herrick continued, “One’s fire is often difficult to talk about openly because it is so personal. It
is often traumatic but does not have to be. Sometimes the writer will deny, avoid, or attempt todismiss it, but it stays with the writer, often haunting, preoccupying, or returning to them
periodically over a period of years. It often makes the writer uncomfortable, and it may take
years to realize.”
For Herrick, his writer’s fire was his adoption. He told how, when he was a teen, he had a lot of
anger, which he later realized was related to this life-changing event. As he matured, Herrick was
able to examine his feelings about being adopted and see how it affected his identity. This
introspection fueled his creativity – many poems came out of this experience, including one he
wrote addressed to his birth mother whom he never met. Herrick shared this poignant poem with
Herrick encouraged us to write a poem, or begin an essay or story titled “Fire.” We wrote for
about 10 minutes and then several participants shared their work. It was simply astonishing to
hear how their experiences of “fire” were fashioned into different works of art – each as distinct
and lovely as lilies in a bouquet.
After we listened to our fellow participant’s written words, Herrick opened up the discussion for
questions. In response to a question about how he crafts his ideas, Herrick said our writing
process can be like making chicken soup.
“What do you need to make chicken soup?” he asked. “Chicken, broth, noodles. The rest – the
exciting, unusual ingredients that give the soup character, are up to you. The same is true for a
Herrick explained that when we write, we can use specific details, such as proper nouns,
invented “lies,” even phrases from a different language to enhance the poem’s meaning and bring
it to life.
When asked what inspired him to write, Herrick said when he wrote his book, Scar and Flower,
he was thinking about all the news about gun violence killing people. But he also couldn’t dwell
solely on the trauma and sadness. The second half of his book dealt with joy.
“What brings you joy – what inspires you?” asked a participant.
Herrick replied, “A nice meal with friends, people like you. I firmly believe writers, farmers and
librarians will save the world!”
We at KernPoetry.com are so grateful for this illuminating and inspiring workshop given by Lee
Herrick, and we wish him success as he travels throughout California, giving more workshops
and promoting poetry!