Debra Vazquez Memorial Series brings another poet laureate to CF


Juan Felipe Herrera makes last week’s mass shooting a center point

Poet Juan Felipe Herrera came to CF on Thursday and Friday on behalf of the Debra Vazquez Memorial Series, and he left behind more than just books and signatures.

The Debra Vazquez Memorial Series was founded after Professor Debra Vazquez was killed by her husband back in 2004. Vazquez, who was the creator of CF’s Imprints literary and art magazine, taught creative writing, English and literature. Faculty and staff wanted to honor her by bringing poets to CF, so students and staff could have the chance to hear poetry from renowned poets.

Herrera recited a poem that reflected his thoughts on the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida that took the lives of seventeen individuals ranging from 14 to 49 years old. He stated that the poem consisted of actual statements made by the families and friends that were impacted, as well as his own thoughts on the situation at hand.

“I want to acknowledge again the students that died and their families, and the ones that were injured,” Herrera said. “However the poem comes out is fine with me, but most of all it’s my offering to Florida, to the families, to the students and to the nation.”

On Thursday, Herrera read the poem for the first time that it had ever been read aloud. At Friday’s reading, he showed the attendees that he had wrote the poem on cardboard, something he often does whenever the moment hits, showing how fresh his writing was.

“Seventeen voices still calling for a new society,” Herrera recited from his poem.

During Friday’s reading, which consisted of many students, Herrera wrote a collaborative poem about the mass shooting with the attendees. He had audience members shout out words or thoughts that expressed their overall feelings of the incident. Once all the words and statements were put together, he brought up a handful of volunteers to help him recite the poem as a whole.

“I thought it was overall a very positive and uplifting time,” said Matthew Greene, 24, an engineering student at CF. “Herrera has a way of speaking, both in person and in his written work that is incredibly down to earth and relatable.”

Along with reciting his seventeen poem and others from his collection, he recited two poems that Vazquez herself wrote. Attendees were given a handout that had two poems by Vazquez printed on it. Herrera got the audience involved by having them recite out loud each line of the poems after he did.

“He (Herrera) was extremely interactive with his audience,” said Mia Lasaga, 21, a psychology student at CF. “His energetic personality positively impacted the audience. I’m glad I came to the reading, and I look forward to whoever the memorial brings next year.”

Story by Katelyn B. James

Photos by Delaney Van Nest