Holding Hands with the Storm Tossed of the Philippines

A new poetry project from UC Riverside Professor Juan Felipe Herrera aims to provide comfort for storm victims and their far flung relatives

Juan Felipe Herrera, at left, with some of his creative writing students. Herrera is California’s Poet Laureate. Peter Phun

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) — California’s Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera has created a poetry project that asks for poems for the Philippines in the wake of a mega storm that wiped out entire communities.

Hawak Kamay: Poems for the Philippines After Haiyan,” is a disaster relief project started by Herrera, professor of creative writing at UC Riverside. The phrase “hawak kamay” means “to hold hands” in Filipino.

This kind of poetry campaign has been a regular feature of Herrera’s time as California Poet Laureate. He has created other pages to offer poetry for the people of Newtown, CT after the school shooting; Poems for Boston after the bombing; and he has a poetry project related to combatting school bullying. All of them together will be part of the “Most Incredible and Biggest Poem on Unity in the World.”

The Hawak Kamay poetry project and facebook group are open to everyone, and in many cases it is the friends and farflung relatives who are sending poems of hope, calming their own anxieties as they seek to communicate.

Healing and inspirational poems can be posted directly to the page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/PoemsForThePhilippines/or emailed to PoemsForThePhilippines@groups.facebook.com

“In a time of crisis, poetry from people’s hearts find a way to calm the storm,” said Herrera. He credits one of his undergraduate students, Princess Fernandez, for coming up with the name “Hawak Kamay.”

He said the poems become a healing chant for all involved. Details have not been worked out about how the poems will be read by those in the typhoon zone, but he is working on that part.

The administrators of this facebook group are Juan Felipe Herrera (founder of the project), Vince Gotera, Barbara Jane Reyes, Arlene Biala, Aldin Enriquez, and JoAnn Balingit, who is the Poet Laureate of Delaware.

The page has more than 700 participants already.  Just two of the poems submitted so far are below:

Angels Hawak Kamay

By Maria E. Cuthbert

Thousands and thousands of angels
Now float around you
Like kayaks they are resting
Over the waves
Like small fish
They are diving in the waters around you
Like seagulls
They are flying in the breeze
Hawak kamay
They are watching you
Taking care that you will not dismay

And all of you, survivors
Hawak kamay
Will work full of hope
With a brand new future in front of you
One that was never before designed
A future you get to create
Where you will get brand new families together
Children will be loved by others
Whose blood they do not carry

May your pain
Become strength
And creativity
to create a new place

May you become the inspiration
For the rest of the world


by Aimee Suzara

This morning
I drink my coffee
see the sky opening up clear
and blue in Oakland

While “over there”
the 7,000 islands
– where my bloodline traces me
keeps me linked
to a collective soul –

bodies are gathered among the debris

churches become morgues
where parents pray over their new saints

homes swept away or smashed
splintered into kindling wood
the corrugated metal, once a roof
or a siding
juts up like a shark’s fin

ocean of broken objects
and disassembled parts

altars of the dispossessed

a profound

a wailing
in the open wind

I dreamed of water every night this week
A warm tidal wave over entire villages
but I was spared:

Media Contact

Tel: (951) 827-4756
E-mail: john.warren@ucr.edu

Additional Contacts

Send a poem
E-mail: PoemsForThePhilippines@groups.facebook.com.

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