The Book That Changed My Life

Mary Ann Hoberman

Mary Ann Hoberman was a 1983 National Book Award Finalist for Children's Picture Books (Paperback) for A House is a House for Me.

Modern American Poetry, edited by Louis Untermeyer, "borrowed" from my uncle's bookshelf (I still have it, sixty years later!) when I was seven or eight, is the book that first pointed me in my life's direction and has remained a touchstone ever since. Undoubtedly, the fact that I acquired it by stealth and that it had belonged to a much-admired relative added to its aura; but its real value was in the unimaginable richness and variety of its content. My copy is the fourth revised edition, published in 1930. Beginning chronologically with Emily Dickinson and ending with Nathalia Crane, its nearly 900 pages include 145 poets, each one represented by from two to thirty poems along with a short biography. Pouring over their lives, memorizing hundreds of their poems, it was as if I had acquired 145 marvelous friends, women and men who had miraculously achieved the title that even as a child I valued above all others: Poet. Throughout my lifetime, however obscure many of them have become, their names and poems have stayed with me. The variety of forms and cadences, of subject matter and points of view, showed me at an early age that a poem could be about almost anything and could be put together in a multiplicity of ways, from the most formal to the most free. But whatever its shape or theme, above all it had to delight you, sing to you, motivate you to learn it by heart. And I in turn have encouraged the children I encounter to memorize poetry; a poem committed to memory in childhood is a lifetime treasure.

Mary Ann Hoberman

Mary Ann Hoberman teaches poetry to students at Manhattan's P.S. 115 during her spring 1997 Family Literacy residency.