Academy of American Poets
75 Maiden Lane
New York, NY 10038
Dear Juan Felipe Herrera,
When I first read your poem, “Jackrabbits, Green Onions & Witches Stew,” I thought, “What the heck have I just read?” I was so dumbfounded by it that I read it again and again, searching for some subliminal meaning, until I realized that it could be possible that I’m not supposed to get a deeper message. Maybe there’s a different, more valuable meaning. So I read it once more, this time focusing on just enjoying the story. What I got was a whole other world of imagination. While reading, my mind spurted out images of cute cartoon characters whizzing about the screen, each of them doing their own wacky thing. It showed personified objects such as planets doing actions uncharacteristic of them, and objects being used for purposes that dumbfounded me. Overall, I realized the pure enjoyment factor within the poem. Not only that, but I got a glimpse of the inside workings of your head. When you said, “No sireee, LOL, blowin’ my bubble gum sun” I imagined a young individual, who was rebelling against the modern conventions and creating his/her own rules.
After doing some research, the image of the person behind this poem shocked me. I imagined a writer who was young and free of care, not an adult, burdened with life. But soon enough, I saw a man who was revealing his true self. After a certain age, people think they need to act in a certain way, following certain rules, basically setting an example for the younger generation. But I can see that you believe in destroying those boundaries, so as to show us that you don’t have to grow up, to pretend like we are something that we aren’t. Sometimes going against the flow is the way to go.
Even after realizing this, I still had only a brief idea of what you were actually talking about. What do Mrs. Oops, Dr. What, and Mr. Space Station actually mean? Are they representations of what our society has become? Or are they just fun characters for us, as the readers, to enjoy? Is the whole story supposed to symbolize our lives and society, or is this poem, just for fun?
Thank you so much for your letter filled with so many keen insights and swirling rollercoaster “skateboard” rides of thought, insight and imagination. As a matter of fact, I think you answered many of your own questions as you journeyed through each word, image, line and all the things that you bumped into inside the poem—even me! Taking the tour inside your own “head” was magnificent! Those “Jackrabbits” sure took both of us on quite a chase. Not to mention those sweet and sharp “green onions,” and most of all that mysterious and bubbling “witches stew.”
The “cartoon characters” that you met on the ride were very enjoyable. Yes—I did want to entertain you when I wrote the poem. “What can I write that will have velocity, be accessible to read and most of all, shift its gear-box into unexpected dimensions?” I prepared myself with this question (in unspoken ways, of course) before I tapped on the computer keys. I kinda knew I was going to write it fast too, that I would be done in one short shot into space myself. Boom!
I wanted that “Boom” in the poem—so I set it all up with the title. Of course (again) I did not know the title other than Mr. Jackrabbit. “This needs a kind of magical feel,” I said to myself once “Jackrabbits” appeared as the first word of the title. So then, I took off. To give the poem movement, that is, a sense to read it after each word was written and read, I introduced the Might Trio—“Mrs. Oops,” “Dr. What “and “Mr. Space Station.” “They” were, indeed, cartoony. I agree with you—the writer has to be zany, youthful, in a way and daring to write it—which means you have to surrender to the poem’s little treasures that appear after you tappity-tap the keys. Isn’t this what all art requires? Freedom?
Freedom makes new things appear and may lead the poem into radical places, Space, for example. Too many poems are earth-fettered. Right? Sad, painful, deep—but, I do like “deep.”
That “Dinky planet on a skateboard of dynamite” is teetering on blowing up, is it not? Maybe like our planet as it rotates and curves through the galaxy with gooey climates and popping sounds of war and violence. Now I am getting too “deep.” And things can get unpredictable—and accidents may happen, “Oops!” “What?” Watch out for the flying belt of space junk coming at you! Oh well, maybe it’s too much to pack into a tiny poem. Let’s just enjoy it—the language in particular. Don't you love words? I think you do. I can see you now through my poetry binoculars—you are sitting there, your eyes are fizzing across the glassy page, here and there you slow to zoom in and then off you go to the next neon ramp of words. You are even smiling. “No way dude!” You say. Are you “Dr. No”? Oh-oh.
Oh, yes, I must say, I loved your letter. You mentioned “destroying boundaries,” you said “life,” you wrote, “society.” Don’t you think that’s what poetry is all about. Even one with a “jackrabbit in the middle of it.?
Thank you Danyal for writing a masterpiece of a letter—from that “space station” you possess, Señor Danyal—called creativity.
Sincerely, from the Land of Jackrabbits,
Juan Felipe Herrera, Board of Chancellors & Green Onions
Academy of American Poets