Although she published her first book of poems at age 59, poetry was not something Neva Hacker came to late in life. She claimed that by the time she was in first grade, she could recite "The Hermit of Shark Tooth Shoal" without missing an iamb. Next, she said, she memorized Coleridge's "Ancient Mariner," then long sections of Longfellow's "Song of Hiawatha" and "Evangeline." "The rhymes and rhythms of poetry must have represented some kind of order in my disordered life," Hacker said.
She shared the early circumstances of her "disordered life" with many other rural Southerners who grew up during the Great Depression. Born in a tiny two-room cabin in the Arkansas Ozarks in 1936, Hacker migrated with her family to California at the start of World War II. Over the next four decades, Hacker would marry, give birth to five children, move to Indiana to raise hogs and build bombs for the Navy, divorce an abusive husband, suffer the death of a daughter, and spend ten years working as an assistant to the dean in the English department of a small California college. It was there she met Robert Hass.
In 1983 Hacker moved back to her mother's farm near Harrison, Arkansas, a town of ten thousand in the Ozarks near the Missouri border, where she became the director of a shelter for victims of domestic violence. She remained the titular director of the shelter, after chronic health problems forced her into semi-retirement.
Hacker's poems document her life with wit and wisdom. As she puts it, they "describe a lifelong struggle to understand family, friends, lovers, my world, myself. The poems speak of loss and discovery: the loss of a child, the loss of a marriage, the loss of youth and health, and the discovery of strength and self-sufficiency.
Poetry, perhaps, is an affirmation of what we already know about ourselves."
Neva Vinetta Hacker died in 1999.