California’s new poet laureate, who is from Fresno, sees ‘poetry in everyone’
FRESNO, Calif. – Poet Lee Herrick was teaching a poetry class at Fresno City College in November when a surprise visitor walked through the door: it was California Governor Gavin Newsom.
The governor and First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom personally paid a visit to Herrick’s class to announce Herrick had been selected as California’s newest poet laureate.
“It was a blur to be honest,” Herrick told KVPR, following the news. “I was so excited. The students were excited… It was a day to remember for sure.”
Born in South Korea, Herrick was adopted and raised in Modesto. His poetry work centers on life in California, especially among immigrant cultures.
Newsom called Herrick’s work a “Whitmanesque celebration of the best spirit of our state, the vibrancy of the Central Valley, and ourselves.”
Herrick’s work also takes readers across the globe in works like “Abecedarian Love Song for Street Food,” a celebration of cuisines across the globe, and “Gardening Secrets of the Dead” in which he details an experience off the coast of Belize.
Poet laureates are charged with advancing the genre and creative self expression, often creating original works during their tenure. In 2015 Herrick was named Fresno Poet Laureate. During that time he read at a state prison and wrote a poem for a family whose son was killed in a car accident.
“Fresno is the city that made me a poet, and the experiences I had, the people I met during that time are unforgettable,” Herrick said. “These opportunities for me are as much about people as they are about poetry, and maybe those two things are always intertwined for me.”
The state laureateship will allow Herrick to advance the genre in communities across California, from small towns to big cities. He will also be partnering with social justice organizations to increase awareness for causes such as racial justice, adoption rights, housing and environmental justice.
In the new year, Herrick will perform a reading at Fresno City College and a reception will be held by the Fresno Arts Council. Over the next two years, he will host workshops, visit schools, perform readings and, he said, “be in community with as many people as I can” in the name of furthering poetry and creative expression in the Golden State.
“I've started to think there is poetry in everyone,” Herrick said. “What I mean by that is we are all human in terms of aspirations, fears, ideas, relationships, difficulties. Poetry speaks to all of those things in a way people I hope can find accessible.”
Herrick has published three books of poetry and his work has appeared in numerous journals and reviews. He is currently working on his fourth book of poems and a forthcoming memoir.