U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera wrote the poem, “Where We Find Ourselves,” which was published by the Los Angeles Times on June 3, 2016 in response to the shooting that took place at UCLA on June 1, 2016. The poem was dedicated to Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering William Klug, who was killed in the shooting, and the students of UCLA.
Herrera, a former UCR creative writing professor, felt it was his responsibility to respond to the shooting as fast as he could with a poem. “It’s good to respond to tragedies,” Herrera said, it could have been any campus.”
During the shooting, a former UCLA PhD student shot Klug before committing suicide. Ashley Hasti, an ex-girlfriend of the shooter, was found dead in Minnesota shortly after the shooting, but was suspected to have been killed prior to the shooting. Klug and Hasti were later discovered to have been on the shooter’s “kill list” along with another UCLA professor who had not been on campus at the time of the shooting.
Although Herrera did not personally know Klug while completing his bachelor’s degree in social anthropology at UCLA in 1972, Herrera saw Klug as a professor who was dedicated to helping students. “He was a professor helping students who out of the blue got shot. We can all have a personal connection with all places all we need is to turn your mind towards it. Poetry can cut the distance. It’s like flowers they don’t change anyone’s life but they are there for the person,” Herrera said.
Prior to writing the poem, Herrera interviewed a CSULB student who was a close friend of Nohemi Gonzalez, a CSULB student killed in the Paris terror attacks, a type of attack which the student referred to as “small massacres,” a term Herrera used in his poem. “(The quote) jarred me a little bit. It gave me an ugly terrible feeling when I listen to it now,” Herrera said.
Herrera hopes the poem will inspire compassion and thoughtfulness in the community toward the lives of students and the professors affected by the shooting. “They will have the poem and that feeling as long as someone reads it and someone cares about them. I just don’t want us to go on as people to keep on moving with our lives to one wound to another wound.”
Herrera is serving his second year as poet laureate. “I write poems on things that happen like this. I’m going to have (the poem) and read it at the next reading.”
In 2013, Herrera encouraged his students to write poetry about the Boston Marathon bombing where three people were killed and more than 264 people were injured, and, in 2012, encouraged his friends to write poetry to the children at Sandy Hook Elementary after a shooting in which 26 children and faculty members were killed and one person was injured. “Sometimes, we need a little push to help others. Sometimes we are just living. We don’t see and we observe,” said Herrera.