The Pepperbox

The Student News Site of Arcata High School

The Pepperbox

The Pepperbox

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CA Poet Laureate comes to Humboldt

“[I want] to really spread the word about poetry and how it impacts people’s lives or communities,”
Lee Herrick

A poet laureate is a highly recognized author and teacher of poetry with the job of spreading knowledge on the written word and inspiring writers throughout the area they serve.  

On Friday, November 17th, we were blessed when the current California Poet Laureate, Lee Herrick, came to our little town. He led a workshop at Cal Poly Humboldt and then read his work at the Morris Graves Museum in Eureka. 

Herrick was born in Daejeon, South Korea, and was adopted into a family in Fresno, California. Currently, he is a professor and father who has authored three books titled: Scar and Flower, Gardening Secrets of the Dead, and This Many Miles from Desire, and co-authored The World I Leave You: Asian American Poets on Faith and Spirit.

As the current Poet Laureate, he believes his main job is to open Californian’s eyes to poetry’s ability to excite, console, and awaken. Herrick spreads the word about poetry by reading to students, hosting public workshops for communities, and meeting with local poets.

“[I want] to really spread the word about poetry and how it impacts people’s lives or communities,” Herrick said. 

Herrick started writing in high school, and a few of his teachers in particular inspired him to let the chaos inside his mind be expressed in this art form. He found the blank page as somewhere he could fill with those questions and stories within him that boiled to the brim. 

“In high school, I was writing a lot about love [and] wonder, and I was starting to write poems about my identity,” Herrick said. “I was adopted from South Korea, so I had a lot of questions and some anger and confusion [about that].”

Herrick felt poetry allowed him to express these complex feelings about growing up with complicated identities as an adopted Asian-American.

“It was a place to put all of the emotions that I couldn’t otherwise name; it was a place for my doubt, my anger, my grief, or my sadness,” Herrick said.

As he’s grown as a writer, he has come to see poetry as something more broadly defined–something beyond an outlet to express the hardships of life. Now, more than ever he finds poetry to be a way to understand the little details of this world. 

“Poetry to me now feels like liberation. It feels like freedom. It can be freedom from uncertainty, from grief, [or] from apathy. The world is much too beautiful and remarkable to not notice it. I don’t want to go through this life not noticing the joys in this world [and] poetry can be a freedom that allows you to see, hear, or experience this – to experience that beauty,” Herrick said.

Herrick finds the most beauty in the diversity and cooperation of communities. He enjoys connecting the differences of our humanity in his flowing, free-verse prose. 

“I am most at home in as much diversity as possible; age, race, interests. Being raised in a white family as an Asian American, my whole life has been about difference, and so I like to see the unity that poetry can achieve by bringing communities together in a poem,” Herrick said.

As a man steeped in California culture, he looks at the world through many lenses and is ultimately fueled by the curiosity of everyday people. 

“[It’s] a hunger to know and a hunger to imagine [that] give[s] me a kind of drive,” Herrick said.

Herrick is greatly moved by people who persevere throughout tumultuous journeys. When he is going through something difficult himself, reading and connecting with individuals who are pulling through gives him the most hope. 

“I’m deeply inspired by [those] who make it through the fight, by [the] people who survive,” Herrick said. 

The inspiration brought by poetry, Herrick feels, can be felt wherever you are. Poetry is an invaluable art to him and he has seen the wonderful impact it can have in the everyday world and on life’s biggest moments, such as the weddings he has read for.

“I think poetry is the beauty of the precision of language [that] can be helpful for any person anytime. I think of it like music. I can’t imagine life without music, without films, or art on the walls,” Herrick said.

Wherever you may be on your writing journey and your life’s journey, Herrick encourages you to take time to experience the music around you and travel through books, and the world. 

As someone who has lived in various countries and learned from a multitude of communities, he encourages us to go beyond our comfort zones, whether that may be reading about a new topic or from a new author, eating a new dish, or traveling to a new city. 

“I would say to read widely and deeply, just explore as much of the world as you can. Being okay with setbacks [is important], don’t be deterred with difficulty,” Herrick said.

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About the Contributor
Sasha Love, Feature Section Editor
Sasha Love is a Senior who enjoys doing a variety of art and writing and sampling out mediums and styles and is excited to get more involved in the school by writing for the Pepperbox. Sasha has been placed in the Redwood Writing Project for several years and her art has been displayed in the community during her time studying at AAI (Arcata Arts Institute). She loves being in nature and hanging out with friends. Running cross-country and mountain biking soothes her cravings for adventure. At school, her favorite subject is social studies and she wishes to continue these pursuits at university next year.
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