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Juan Felipe Herrera on “The Poetry of Home”

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Today, tune in to the third installment of “The Poetry of Home,” our weekly collaborative video series with The Washington Post, in which 21st Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera reads and discusses his poem “Five Directions to My House.”

About his writing process for the poem, Herrera says with his signature dynamism, “It’s almost like mixing the radioactive isotopes—but little, tiny ones, not dangerous ones. Little, tiny ones. Poetry isotopes. To see what’s gonna happen.” He continues, “It’s like being a mad scientist, poetry. You mix things up and they can blow up. They could fizzle. They could do a pssh! They could just take off! Incredible speed. So that’s what I was doing.”

When he turns to “Five Directions to My House” and its connection to the subject of home, Herrera speaks about his upbringing on the road as a child of a farmworker family. “So all I saw were fields going by, the sky.” He says that “what kept it as a home-home was the stories and the photographs that my mother would show me, almost every day. And that was my school.”

During this pandemic, Herrera says, we’re all now in the same home—”the home of radical change, where we all live separately and differently now”—and as part of this new global household, our primary responsibility is “to extend our arms as far as our arms and hearts can go.” Before he segues into reading “Five Directions to My House,” the poet ends with this expansive sentiment: “I think if we continue to send our love and speak our love and, in little pictures, show our love, and little poems, call out our love, that is gonna start our gathering once again.”

Herrera closes the video by reading “Five Directions to My House,” the poem appearing on screen as the poet takes us back to the fields and skies of his childhood home in these first two lines:

  1. Go back to the grain yellow hills where the broken speak of elegance
  2. Walk up to the canvas door, the short bed stretched against the clouds

We extend you the same love and hope that Juan Felipe Herrera extends in his video. Be sure to watch the entire series, which concludes with Natasha Trethewey next Friday, May 1.