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UC’s rich and thriving poetic tradition goes back 100 years

Juan Felipe Herrera

Juan Felipe Herrera, a UCLA alum and professor emeritus at UC Riverside’s creative writing department, has been a poet laureate of California and the United States.

Befitting a world-class university, UC has a long poetic tradition, but you might be surprised by exactly how deep it goes.

UC Berkeley offered the nation’s very first university-level creative writing course, according to Robert Hass, professor emeritus of English at UC Berkeley and former poet laureate of the United States.

“The course was taught in 1918 by Witter Bynner,” Hass explains, “a friend of Wallace Stevens.” Bynner went on to produce one of the first English translations of Chinese literature with fellow UC Berkeley professor Jiang Kanghu, “Jade Mountain” — a book that, 100 years on, has never gone out of print.

UC Berkeley was also home to early figures in the feminist poetic tradition. Josephine Miles, the first woman tenured in the English department at Cal in 1947, taught among her many students Barbara Guest, who became a storied figure in one of poetry’s major 20th century movements, the New York School (despite her having attended UC Berkeley and UCLA — talk about poetic license!).

In the decades since, UC has produced enough poets to fill multiple anthologies — including Ishmael Reed, Thom Gunn and Adrienne Rich — to name a few. But perhaps most excitingly, poetry thrives across the university today.

Read the full story from the UC Newsroom

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