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Juan Felipe Herrera: A Poet Without Borders

Notes on the Assemblage

U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera is speaking in Las Vegas this week.

Poet Juan Felipe Herrera has said he “wants to fly with symbols and metaphors and see trees in the shape of flying saucers.”

Herrera has been writing, publishing, and teaching for decades. Now his eclecticism is on view in an even grander scale as the nation’s new poet laureate. His inaugural reading took place at the Library of Congress just last week.

Mr. Herrera has also been traveling around the country reading from his latest book of poems, “Notes on the Assemblage” (City Lights, 2015). This Saturday, September 26, Herrera will be giving a writer’s workshop at the Clark County Library at 3 p.m.. He’ll be giving a reading at Nevada State College in Henderson at 7 pm. Both events are free and do not require a reservation or tickets.

“I write poems so that people can find things, and not to grab on to what I want to say,” Herrera told KNPR’s State of Nevada when asked about the meaning of one of his poems, “You Throw a Stone.”  

“My poems are more like stepping stones,” Herrera said. “And in-between the stepping stones, there’s a leap. And it’s in those leaps I want the reader to enjoy and discover and meditate and reflect.”

Herrera loves teaching.

“It’s like creating a new society, a new community every time you teach,” Herrera said.

And teaching has even made him a better poet.

“New minds, new experiences," he said. "New peoples from different places in the world in your classroom – if you don’t change, then maybe something’s not working. Students have assisted me in their discussions and thoughts on writing, have assisted me a lot in my writing. New approaches, new styles. I just love it.”

KNPR asked Herrera if he thinks of his appointment as U.S. Poet Laureate as an affirmation of Spanish language and culture in the United States and , perhaps, beyond borders.  

“It’s a good thing to affirm our culture, our language, our languages - our community, our communities,” Herrera said. “And to open our mind and thoughts and gates to all languages and all communities. We’re all connected. We’re all interconnected. Indeed, it’s a good thing.”

Herrera says he wants to encourage a “very wide lens, a very wide road, a most inclusive life for everyone through the arts – and particularly poetry.”

La Casa de Colores (The House of Colors)

Juan Felipe Herrera, U.S. Poet Laureate; Bruce Isaacson, Clark County (NV) Poet Laureate

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Since June 2015, Fred has been a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada.