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BlogJuly-August-September, 2015
In Praise of Juan Felipe Herrera

Elaborating on the selection of Juan Felipe Herrera, 66, as the next U.S. poet laureate, James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress, compared Herrera's work to Walt Whitman's, calling Herrera an "American original."

Like Whitman's Leaves of Grass, Herrera's poems "engage in a serious sense of play--in language and in image--that I feel gives them enduring power," said Billington in a Library of Congress statement. "I see how they champion voices, traditions and histories, as well as a cultural perspective, which is a vital part of our larger American identity."

One of the hallmark lines in Whitman's "Song of Myself" could easily pertain to Herrera's life and career: "I resist anything better than my own diversity."

That's Whitman's way of saying, "Don't you dare pigeonhole me, reader. If you label me one thing, I'll cast myself the opposite." Likewise, it's foolish to sum up Herrera's biography and poetry with a fistful of adjectives. His range has been wide and ever-shifting.

"He's always trying to get outside what he's already done, line by line, poem by poem, book by book," Stephen Burt, a professor at Harvard who has written about Herrera, told the New York Times. "He's really unpredictable in the best possible way."

Personally, I've always appreciated how Herrera creates sublimity through surprising sounds.
Read aloud these lines from his "Let Me Tell You What a Poem Brings," and you'll discern his skill in creating polyrhythms, like a jazz composer:

let me tell you what a poem brings,

first, you must know the secret, there is no poem

to speak of, it is a way to attain a life without boundaries,

yes, it is that easy, a poem, imagine me telling you this,

instead of going day by day against the razors, well,

the judgments, all the tick-tock bronze, a leather jacket

sizing you up, the fashion mall, for example, from

the outside you think you are being entertained,

when you enter, things change, you get caught by surprise...

His repetition of words like "you" and "poem" are a palpably pleasing sonic contrast to the "z" sounds of "razors," "bronze," "sizing," and, surprisingly, "leather" and "example." Note, too, the subtle, internal almost-rhymes of "attain," "day by day," "entertained," and "change." Taken together, these effects create a meaty mix for both readers and listeners.
  

April-May-June, 2015
Song of Myself in Goodbye, Columbus

January-February-March, 2015
The Influence of The Book of Mormon

October-November-December, 2014
The Blue-Flag in the Bog

July-August-September, 2014
The Influence of Bleak House

April-May-June, 2014
A last bit news on the Zinsky front

January-February-March, 2014
Yet more news on the Zinsky front

October-November-December, 2013
Still more news on the Zinsky front

July-August-September, 2013
More news on the Zinsky front

April-May-June, 2013
News on the Zinsky front

January-February-March, 2013
An Allocation of Real Estate

November-December, 2012
Some thoughts on Who I Am

September-October, 2012
Thoughts on Gore Vidal's Lincoln

July-August, 2012
The Sometimes Sanctimonious Bombast of Ray Bradbury

May-June, 2012
4 other missteps in Pulitzer fiction prize history

March-April, 2012
Football in American Lit: The Last Picture Show

January-February, 2012
Football in American Lit: The Great Gatsby

November-December, 2011
Football in American Lit: The Catcher in the Rye

September-October, 2011
A Fantasy Retirement

July-August, 2011
Some thoughts on Patti Smith's Just Kids

May-June, 2011
Ranking the early Spenser novels

March-April, 2011
Norse Mythology in Mann and George R. R. Martin

January-February, 2011
Bashing Bel Canto

November-December, 2010
Shakespearean Elements in The Deer Hunter

March-April, 2010
Holden Caulfield, a heartsick Hamlet

January-February, 2010
Emily Dickinson & The Left Hand of Darkness

December, 2009
Q & A with James Ellroy

November, 2009
Flannery O'Connor's "The River"

October, 2009
Breaking Down The Black Dahlia

August-September, 2009
Emily Dickinson, War Poet

July, 2009
Jaime Lannister's Fever Dream

June, 2009
Underground with Philip Roth

April-May, 2009
Bradbury and Bellow, Jupiter and Saturn

February-March, 2009
Tedious reviews of Philip Roth; NFL draft + recession (Matthew Stafford + Mark Sanchez are not first-round worthy; Chase Coffman + Zac Robinson are)

January, 2009
Dirge of the dying year (Shelley, Browning, Harold Bloom); Israel's Lincolnesque strategy + Obama's silence; NFL rookie wrap-up

December, 2008
Politically incorrect moments in literature; Rolling Stone's 100 greatest singers; the NBA's most improved players; Ursula K. Le Guin and George R. R. Martin

November, 2008
The brilliance of Bergman, the busts of the NFL draft

October, 2008
How Wal-Mart blackwashed its image; when the movie beats the book

August-September, 2008
Tavis Smiley and Charlie Rose are lazy; fiction and football, blogs and Bruce Springsteen

July, 2008
WALL-E, Robinson Crusoe, Abraham Lincoln, Najeh Davenport

June, 2008
SAT scores, NBA draft

May, 2008
It was 20 years ago today; Steve McNair versus Jim Kelly

April, 2008
Russell Banks, meet Stephen Vincent Benét; Chris Paul is not the MVP 

March, 2008
Hillary Clinton forgets Holden Caulfield; Steve Slaton, steal of the NFL draft

February, 2008
The NY Times Magazine insults our intelligence; the truth about Gilbert Arenas and Jeremy Shockey

January, 2008
The Gayness of Henry James, the Inspiration of Rod Smith

December, 2007
El Salvador, Eels, and Jose Calderon

November, 2007
Imus, Kucinich, and the Houston Rockets


Ilan Mochari is the author of the Pushcart-nominated debut novel Zinsky the Obscure (Fomite Press, 2013). The novel earned rave reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Kirkus. It was also featured in the Boston Globe and on Boston's NPR station. His short stories and poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in Keyhole, Hobart, Stymie, Midway Journal, and elsewhere.
Another story received an honorable mention in a Glimmer Train competition. He has a B.A. in English from Yale University.

 
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Ilan Mochari