Favorite First Poems

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--Joyce Carol Oates, National Book Award-winning author of Blonde, What I Lived For, and I Am No One You Know: Stories (April 2004); adapted from The Faith of a Writer, © 2003, The Ontario Review

"When I was in the eighth grade, we memorized 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' [by Samuel Taylor Coleridge], and every time I go to the beach, I always think, 'Water, water, everywhere.' It never left me."

--Wendy Wasserstein, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of The Heidi Chronicles, Uncommon Women and Others, An American Daughter, and Isn't it Romantic, and author of Shiksa Goddess

"The poems I cared most about as a child were 'The Road Goes Ever On' by J.R.R. Tolkien, 'Cottleston Pie' by A.A. Milne (featuring, as I recall, the fab line 'A fish can't whistle and neither can I'), and a silly bit of nonsense [titled 'No Pets Allowed'] from a collection of tongue-twisters and double-talk by a certain Mr. Arnold Arnold. I still think of the last line, 'Fretting pets wet,' every time I see an upset dog indoors. When I was a kid, though, I didn't even have a pet. This poem, like all the poetry that interested me before age 12 or so, was purely about the sound of words."

--Jonathan Franzen, National Book Award-winning author of The Corrections, Strong Motion, Twenty-Seventh City, and How to Be Alone: Essays

"When I was in fourth grade, something possessed me to memorize 'Paul Revere's Ride' by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. (I think I might have been a bit of a showoff.) What's amazing to me is how vividly the poem has stuck with me over the decades, the way pieces of it still pop into my mind from time to time. Something about the breathlessness of the poem -- the galloping rhythm and the sense of adventure it evoked -- really brought a historical moment to life in a memorable, accessible way."

--Tom Perrotta, author of The Wishbones, Bad Haircut: Stories of the Seventies, Joe College, and Election

"'The Purple Cow' by Gelett Burgess was one of many doggerel poems my father read to me as a child. This poem stands out in my memory as a particular favorite because of how wonderfully simple and short it was. In fact, it was the first thing I ever memorized and has stuck with me to this day."

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