With LitCity Lore, we periodically feature a story from our new LitCity website, which maps unique Iowa City literary stories to the locations where writers lived, worked, gave readings, socialized and were inspired by the town.
This week we are highlighting Juan Philipe Herrera’s poem “This Was Iowa,” published in the Iowa Journal of Literary Studies in January 1991.
THIS WAS IOWA
A feverish air seemed to wave from the flowers.
They opened their charred blossoms; light
curled, uncurled; inside the gold eyes, pollen, sand,
a lifting cane of thin bone.
I was looking at an art book on Georgia O’Keeffe
across from the First National Bank in Iowa City
I didn’t want to get lost in there, so I stared away
getting familiar in a small town.
In the first line two stanzas into the poem, Hererra describes the First National Bank (now U.S. Bank) in downtown Iowa City. The poem epically flows from there, moving through time and space to arrive back in Iowa City at the end. Read the whole poem here.
Herrera received his MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 1990. In 2015, he was appointed the U.S. Poet Laureate. He has won the Hungry Mind Award of Distinction, the Focal Award, two Latino Hall of Fame Poetry Awards, and a PEN West Poetry Award. His honors include the UC Berkeley Regent’s Fellowship as well as fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and the Stanford Chicano Fellows. He has also received several grants from the California Arts Council.