A coming-of-age memoir from poet Jerome, poetry columnist for Writer's Digest since 1961. The setting is Oklahoma and Texas during the Depression, and covers the author's first 20 years as he struggles to understand a destructive, alcoholic father, a fiercely independent mother, and his own understandably passive nature. Jerome shines in his evocative descriptions of place and in re-creating a long-vanished quality of innocence in life peculiarly southwestern. What detracts here, however, are an overly anecdotal approach to the subject, an often indulgent, meandering style, and a seeming reluctance to grapple with the tragic implications of a very disturbed childhood. Perhaps one reason for the curious lack of dramatization lies in the 25 poems Judson has added to grace his story. Written years ago, most possess a vibrancy and immediacy lacking in the narrative. It's as if the author had gone to the well too often--the prose is often a pallid reflection of the poetry. Still, there are attractive elements here. Among them is the portrait of the artist as a young undersized ""shrimp,"" gamely setting out to define for himself ""what a man does in this world."" Jerome's great love of reading, which serves as a psychological retreat from an over-bearing family, is lovingly rendered, as is the collection of friends, pets, and momentary crushes--even though the memoir remains, overall, a little too innocent for its own good.