The Book That Changed My Life

Hettie Jones

Hettie Jones's first collection of poems, Drive (Hanging Loose Press, 1997), was selected to receive the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America. She is also the author of How I Became Hettie Jones (1990), a memoir of the beat scene of the fifties and sixties, as well as of her marriage (1958-1966) to LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka.

Because I came from a household that regarded my interest in books with a certain suspicion, I didn't really begin reading seriously until I left home at seventeen. But then, ah! Gluttonous, directionless, I read anything and everything I could get my hands on. I do remember my thrill upon finding Delmore Schwartz's In Dreams Begin Responsibilities, and wanting to write like that. I might have been twenty then.

But it wasn't until I was twenty-five and had already plunged headfirst into the world of avant-garde poetry that Donald Allen's anthology The New American Poetry 1945-1960 was published and changed the way we have looked at poems ever since. Id read much of the work therein before its appearance there-had even helped to publish some in chapbooks-but its presence in a book (not stapled together but with a spine!) convinced me, finally, that here was a process I could, and would, join as a writer. I would write poems, I vowed, and eventually I did. And prose as well, in books with spines, and it all still feels like a miracle.

All the best,

Hettie Jones