Poetry Then, Poetry Now: A Poet Laureate and His Legacy

Join UCR Gluck creative writing fellows in the month of April for free poetry readings and writing workshops

families writing poetry

Families enjoy a Gluck Fellows poetry workshop at Cellar Door Books in Riverside in 2013.

April is National Poetry Month.

Created by the American Academy of Poets, National Poetry Month is the largest literary celebration in the world, filled with activities and events that celebrate poetry’s vital place in American culture. UCR Professor of Poetry Emeritus Juan Felipe Herrera could not possibly contain himself to just one month, however, nor even to a single year. Poetry was not just his passion; it was also his assignment.

As poet laureate of California from 2012 to 2014 – a two-year position to which Gov. Jerry Brown appointed him – his mission was to move the location of poetry and its power beyond traditional classrooms and libraries and out across the state, to unconventional places and circumstances where poetry can have a tangible and immediate impact on life.

An Unnecessary Tragedy, A Compelling Reason for Poetry

In April 2013, Herrera launched the i-Promise Joanna project. Named for 10-year-old Joanna Ramos, who died of injuries suffered in a fight in 2012, i-Promise Joanna was an anti-bullying campaign based on a poem he wrote in response to the tragedy. It launched with nearly 100 fifth-graders from Moreno Valley’s Towngate Elementary School who attended UC Riverside’s Gluck Day of the Arts, and continued with UCR Gluck Fellows going to elementary schools, reading Herrera’s poem, and having the students respond with pledges to find peaceful solutions (http://ucrtoday.ucr.edu/14998).

One poem, a Thousand Voices

But he was not done. In October 2014, he culminated a two-year, literary, open-source campaign by debuting “The Most Incredible and Biggest and Most Amazing Poem on Unity in the World” as part of a Unity Fiesta at UCR that drew hundreds of participants and a Unity Choir from Bethune Elementary School (http://ucrtoday.ucr.edu/24745). Anyone, anywhere could submit a line. There was no editor; there were no boundaries. They could even submit via Facebook and Twitter. “I’m going to invite everyone to write a line, a word, a phrase, a stanza — a poem if you want — on unity. All views are welcome — all languages, all styles,” said Herrera of his approach. Over 170 pages long with hundreds of voices melding together, it embodied his tenure as poet laureate, acting as an instigator and architect to connect people with poetry in common cause for positive change.

Poetry Then, Poetry Now

Although Herrera is no longer poet laureate, his example lives on at UCR. For National Poetry Month, the Gluck Fellows Program of the Arts at UCR is teaming up with Riverside institutions to bring free poetry and writing events to the public. On April 2, Mosaic Art and Literary Journal will host an open-mic night at the Riverside Art Museum, where avid poets and writers can share their work in the midst of the creative community during Downtown Riverside’s First Thursday Art Walk. The event begins at 6 p.m.

Gluck Program creative writing fellows will also give four free poetry workshops in April, “How to Jumpstart Your Creativity: Electrify Through Poetry and Other Charged Art Forms,” in conjunction with the Inlandia Institute and Cellar Door Books at Canyon Crest Town Center. All workshops will begin at 5:30 p.m.

  • April 3: “The Small Alchemy of the Pen,” with Angela Penaredondo
  • April 6: “You Already Have What You Need: Unlocking Memories through Sketching, Writing, and Reading,” with Krista Lukas
  • April 17: “Dream Machine,” with Angela Penaredondo
  • April 20: “Music + Art + Words = Writing for Surprise,” with Krista Lukas

Media Contact


Tel: (951) 827-7847
E-mail: bettye.miller@ucr.edu
Twitter: bettyemiller

Additional Contacts

Shane Shukis
Tel: 951-827-3518
E-mail: sshukis@ucr.edu

Christine Leapman
Tel: 951-827-5739
E-mail: christine.leapman@ucr.edu

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