Valley Voices

What I love about Fresno: a thank you note from our poet laureate

Fresno Poet Laureate Lee Herrick, left, smiles as he poses next to Juan Felipe Herrera, the 21st United States Poet Laureate, during last year’s LitHop.
Fresno Poet Laureate Lee Herrick, left, smiles as he poses next to Juan Felipe Herrera, the 21st United States Poet Laureate, during last year’s LitHop. ezamora@fresnobee.com

If you were to ask me if I enjoyed being Fresno Poet Laureate, like my daughter did recently, I would say that I absolutely did. My two-year term ends this week, and it was an honor and a joy. I have had the good fortune to teach at Fresno City College, which is a beautiful poem of its own, for 20 years.

To all the brave, inspiring poets and writers – thank you and keep on. To those who nominated me, selected me, to Mayor Ashley Swearenginwho appointed me in 2015, to the Fresno Arts Council and its indispensable Executive Director Lilia Chavez, thank you and keep on.

To everyone in our great city working to make it better, thank you and keep on.

It was a busy two years. I spoke about creativity and poetry for Leadership Fresno twice, once at the Fresno Art Museum and once at Warnors Theater. I was a luncheon speaker at Arté Americas for the Cultural Arts Rotary Club. For the Pan Valley Institute, I read a poem for International Women’s Day. At the MY DEEN Center, I read a poem for newly arrived Syrian refugees.

I organized an event in memory of the 49 victims of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting and several readings featuring many of Fresno’s best poets at the Fresno Arts Council. I read at the HmongStory40 exhibit, Clovis Community College, Fresno State, and the San Joaquin River Center, and I spoke at several events for the Fresno County Library.

I spoke at a book fair in the Sierra Vista Mall, at various high schools, and in Madera for Poetry Out Loud. I read a poem at the celebration for Juan Felipe Herrera at Fresno State when he was appointed as United States Poet Laureate, and I attended dozens of other wonderful events.

I also realized a dream – I founded and organized LitHop in 2016, an all day literary festival that featured 40 events and 140 writers in a single day. I am thrilled that on Saturday, LitHop 2017 is happening, with over 40 events, 150 writers, and a headline reading by Gary Soto.

I say all of this because it has been a busy two years, but more so, I say it because it reminded me of what I love about Fresno – the people. Fresno has a large, wide-open heart, and I feel it everywhere. At every event, for all of these amazing organizations, I remember the vibrant spirit of the people.

I have read in almost every major city in the country, and everywhere I go, I’m asked what it is like to be a poet from Fresno. I could write a book on this, but I’ll say it succinctly – aside from the heat, the work ethic, the grit, and the legions of breathtaking books of poems by Fresno authors, it is the people. It has been a true delight and an honor to serve as Fresno’s second poet laureate.

Two specific memories of my term illustrate some of what I will always remember. First, I was invited to read at a state prison, which was eye-opening and enlightening. It was very difficult but incredibly moving. Some men were serving life sentences. I went back a second time, and I have been asked to teach a poetry workshop for the Veteran’s Unit, which I hope to do.

This is a great city, but we have work to do.

The second experience that was particularly moving was meeting the Amezcua family, whose 9-year-old son was tragically killed in a car accident in 2007. The boy donated his organs through Donor Network West and saved four lives in the process.

I had the honor of meeting the boy’s parents and writing a poem, which I titled “Sebastian as Dove and Grace,” for a special event held last year in his honor. I will never forget the poetry of the parents’ grace and strength.

Fresno is a large, complex, and beautiful poem. I cannot imagine my life as poet if I had not moved here 20 years ago. It was an honor and a true joy serving as Fresno Poet Laureate, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Lee Herrick is the author of two books, “Gardening Secrets of the Dead” and “This Many Miles from Desire,” and serves as poet laureate of Fresno. He teaches at Fresno City College and in the low-residency master of fine arts program at Sierra Nevada College. He wrote this for “Living the Arts,” a project of Zócalo Public Square and The James Irvine Foundation. Connect with him at 1leeherrick@gmail.com.

Fresno LitHop

Date: April 29

Time: 2-11:30 p.m.

Place: Various venues

Afterparty: Shredworthy, 810 E. Olive Ave. in Tower District, 9:30-11:30; 8:30 p.m. doors open; 9:30 p.m. DJ Sahab

Details: https://lithopfresno.wordpress.com/events/

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