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by Juan Felipe Herrera




Synopsis: Originally released as a bilingual collection in 1989 by Stephen Kessler’s Alcatraz Editions, Juan Felipe Herrera wrote the poems of Akrílica starting in 1977, occasioned by the energy and dialogue that he encountered upon meeting writer and co-conspirator Francisco X. Alarcón (1954-2016). Through a new interview included here and through his own Visual Introduction, archival photographs from his travels across the Americas, and new art created in conversation with the collection, Herrera offers a rich set of references, inspirations, and influences that shaped Akrílica while sharing his take on this singular book’s place in his development as a poet and multimedia artist. This new edition and new translation of Akrílica arrives now to expand the political and artistic possibilities that form our current horizon. This project is not one of inclusion or recovery. This is a project of retrieval. We steal Akrílica away from literary institutions, away from the discipline of literature as such, and away from traditions of experimental poetics that should hope to claim it. Oriented toward the liveliness of the imagination, committed to fundamentally changing itself in order to meet the moment, Akrílica belongs somewhere else; it belongs in the hands of those finding one another in a gathering that has yet to take place.

About the Author

Juan Felipe Herrera is the 21st Poet Laureate of the United States (2015-2016) and is the first Latino to hold the position. From 2012-2014, Herrera served as California State Poet Laureate. Herrera’s many collections of poetry include Every Day We Get More IllegalNotes on the Assemblage; Senegal TaxiHalf of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems, a recipient of the PEN/Beyond Margins Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award; and 187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross The Border: Undocuments 1971-2007. He is also the author of Crashboomlove: A Novel in Verse, which received the Americas Award. His books of prose for children include: SkateFate, Calling The Doves, which won the Ezra Jack Keats Award; Upside Down Boy, which was adapted into a musical for young audiences in New York City; and Cinnamon Girl: Letters Found Inside a Cereal Box. His book Jabberwalking, a children’s book focused on turning your wonder at the world around you into weird, wild, incandescent poetry, came out in 2018. Herrera is also a performance artist and activist on behalf of migrant and indigenous communities and at-risk youth. He runs the Laureate Lab Visual Wordist Studio at Fresno State.



IN ONE OF AKRILICA’S ANTI-THEATRICAL WORKS, Juan Felipe Herrera invites performers as well as the audience-listeners-readers to help make a work aiming to “create, sustain and to fire a vascular-acoustic-visual electricity.” Clearly those who participated in the production of this exhilarating volume did so in the same spirit, from its editors to its translators into English and into inspired book object. The result astonishes while insisting on the futility of borders between author and those who animate the work; between song and score; picture and document; insiders and outsiders; refusal and affirmation. Y en las venas las palabras de uno y las palabras de otros. In a word, electrifying.

Mónica de la Torre

author of The Happy End/All Welcome, Four, Public Domain, Talk Shows

AROUND 1988, JUAN FELIPE HERRERA DROVE US TO THE MISSION in a cherried-out 1952 Chevy, I wanna say, but I don’t recall the make at all, just that the roadster was gleaming, all teal, shell white and chrome glaring in the sun as we sped up 101 into the city. Here we go again, roaring into that shining city, into the ungentrified Mission, a poet’s Teotihuacan! A renewed translation like a classic ranfla, hand-polished, fuel-injected and updated, teal, shell white and brilliant! The borderless energies Akrilica released flared across all the Americas, embroiled as they remain in the aftershocks of the U.S. wars in Centroamerica and U.S. money and U.S. guns in Mexico and beyond. Finally, one of the best of JFH’s secret classics is available in this expertly re-tooled version!

Sesshu Foster

co-author with Arturo Romo of ELADATL, a History of the East Los Angeles Dirigible Air Transport Lines

ONCE EVERY GENERATION THE COMMITTEE OF GODS & GODDESSES OFFERS US A ONE-OFF, a visionary behemoth so unparalleled in his talents and abilities, and in his unbridled capacity to express love, that his gravity alone is bound to pull a universal audience. For those of us who’ve carved a life between a nascent millennium and an ancient pandemic, Juan Felipe Herrera is our gift. He arrived fully formed, perhaps as an offering from under the cloak of Xōchipilli at the first Floricanto at USC 1973—a poet, a singer-songwriter, a payaso, artist, anthropologist and word healer—for everything that pours out of this man is a prayer for you, and every page is a liminal space bursting with possibility, the book as installation, as assemblage, as kite, a living exhibit of wonder, a scry if we heed it. And for the greater part of his life he’s taken this power to the people, in the streets, in the campos, in jail cells, and in the towers of academia, and delivered it back into our empty hands better than when we lost it. For those of us who’ve come to rely on Juan Felipe’s books, his teachings, his performances, and his mentorship, it’s undeniable that Akrílica is the phosphorescent gate to a reimagined world where the poet first invited us in, wide open and without armor, where he first informed us—Here is a place where you can write and weep and soar and sing, or sit in silence, and still be counted as part of the collective heart. To open this book up right now, any page, is to enter the gentle and kaleidoscopic galaxy of a poet without peers.

Tim Z. Hernandez

author of All They Will Call You

THIS TRANSLATION CONFRONTS THE DEEP POWER OF HARM, the reality of memory, and awakens Herrera’s treasures in the herenow. Each poem is a buttoned contemporary dream troubled by stalking, fractured faces but the translators dropped them off at the freestyle party at “the crystal in the river’s brow.” Some might recognize this book’s system as the dark night of the soul. I recognize it as the method of the fifth dimension of Chicanismo, as told from the central valley and from the perspective of each poet involved in this translation—a glare that reminds and then annihilates with generous attention.

Sara Borjas

author of Mouth like a Cliff, Heart like a Window