Fresno is home to America's new Poet Laureate

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Juan Felipe Herrera has been named by the Library of Congress as the nation's next Poet Laureate. The author of 29 books, he's a world renowned poet, and the first Latino to be named to the post.

"One by one, two by two, they galloped across the clouds and flowers, across black cornfields, and exhausted sands, one husband, one woman and two 14 year olds."

That's Herrera reading from his poem, "One by One." About migrants crossing into the United States from Mexico.

Just one of the hundreds of poems he has written, inspired by life in the Central Valley. Born just outside of Fresno in the town of Fowler, he travelled the valley as the son of migrant workers.

"All of that is in me," said Herrera. "The hot sun. The horizons. The color of the earth. The hardworking people, my father's life is my life, my mother's life is my life."

He says few may realize it but Fresno and the Central Valley is a hotbed of poetry. Philip Levine called Fresno home and he was the nations Poet Laureate in 2011 and 2012. Herrera was California's Poet Laureate last year. His term as the national Poet Laureate begins in September. It's a recognition Herrera is still absorbing.

Herrera said, "It is changing my life. That's how I feel...I feel that it's such a big feeling."

He hopes to use the position to reach others and encourage everyone to write poetry.

Herrera said, "You can be the movie director the photographer the music composer in a poem, first tell a story then come back and see if you can put some sounds into it. Some musical notes into it. Or a song right in the middle of it. So all that you can do in one page. It's a small world. It's a small little world and in that world it's an infinite universe, that's what's lovely about it."

Juan Felipe Herrea is 66-years-old. He taught writing at Fresno State for 10 years and he just retired from UC Riverside after 13 years. He returned to Fresno to be near his adult children. It's the place he calls home and he says it still inspires him.

"Maybe it's the hard work," said Herrera. "Maybe it's the dreams of people. We all come to Fresno with big dreams. To survive. To feed our families."

Herrera will be inaugurated as the nation's Poet Laureate at a ceremony in Washington DC in September.

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