Story by Giovanni Lopez with contribution by Portia Choi
(Photos of Jack Hernandez by Giovanni Lopez and Juan Felipe Herrera by Blue Flower Arts)
Juan Felipe Herrera, the current (and first Latino) United States Poet Laureate, will be speaking on “Surveillance, Violence, Creativity and Compassion.” The event is on Wednesday, March 29th at 7:00 p.m. at the Indoor Theater, The Simonsen Performing Arts Center at Bakersfield College. The Annual Levan Lecture will host the event.
Herrera will speak on poetry and the impact it has on people. Herrera’s poems contain themes on social issues. He draws inspiration from his experiences growing up as the son of migrant workers in the San Joaquin and Salinas valleys. Herrera writes in both English and Spanish.
Jack Hernandez, a fellow poet and director of the Levan Center, helped organize the event. “[Herrera]is a major poet, who in his poetry is expressing human themes, human experience, but through the lens of his own experiences,” he said.
Although he is known primarily for his poetry, Herrera is also a performance artist. He has participated in theater and authored children’s books.
An activist for migrant and indigenous communities, Herrera‘s work has influenced minorities in both rural and urban areas.
Jack Hernandez said, “Given today’s environment and atmosphere, people are afraid of being plucked dropping their child off at school.”
Hernandez is also descended from immigrants. His father was born in Mexico and mother is from Indiana of Scottish decent. He grew up in Detroit, Michigan when his father migrated there to work in the factories.
Hernandez had a different experience, compared to the primarily Latino experience in California. Many of the immigrants in his neighborhood were Polish, as well as Italian in addition to Latinos.
The appearance in Bakersfield of the U.S. Poet Laureate is both timely and important given the current immigration controversy.
The following are poems which Hernandez selected for the Kern Poetry website. The poem by Laureate Herrera is “Half-Mexican.” The poem by Hernandez is “Jastro Park.”
Half-Mexican by Juan Felipe Herrera
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
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
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.
A Poem by Jack Hernandez
To focus on a tennis ball
requires the brain
to stop frame the world
halt the spin
tilt and whirl,
the mind’s tight grip
on silence the instant
before the explosive
After three sets
happy in our bodies
and a good forehand or two,
we drink beer
from a cooler
in Jastro Park
ringed by joggers.
At first our talk
is tennis, fellowships,
and summer plans, then
as the cooling down
of our muscles, we
mention Muriel’s recent death
and the world stops again,
the joggers, the late afternoon
yellow valley sun, all
are frozen on a photograph
of us centered in light
and park shadows, a group
that has played together
for years, suddenly aware
of life’s rush to the edge
and our need to hold
moments motionless like
a tennis ball stopped in flight.