Photo: Alabama Poet Laureate Ashley Jones (pictured, sitting) gave a reading of he works last Tuesday (June 14) at Gadsden State. Pictured, standing, from left: Gadsden State English instructor Tabitha Bozeman, Gadsden Public Library Public Services Specialist Rachel Cole, Gadsden Public Library Administrative Assistant Amber McFadyen, Gadsden Public Library Assistant Director Carol Wright. (Courtesy of Gadsden State)
By Robb Corker and Tillie Green/Staff correspondents
The sound of snapping fingers filled the room between poems read aloud by Alabama’s first black poet laureate, Ashley Jones, at Gadsden State Community College’s One Stop Center on June 14, 2022.
The poetry reading was presented through a collaborative effort from Gadsden City Library and the Cardinal Arts Journal.
Jones’ list of accolades includes the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers Award, the Silver Medal in the Independent Publishers Book Awards, the Lena-Miles Wever Todd Prize for Poetry, a Literature Fellowship from the Alabama State Council on the Arts, the Lucille Clifton Poetry Prize, and the Lucille Clifton Legacy Award, in addition to nominations for others.
Jones co-directs PEN Birmingham and had her vision realized as founding director of the Magic City Poetry Festival, an annual reading series that celebrates Alabama’s contemporary poetry and literature. She is able to accomplish all of this while also teaching high school students in the Creative Writing Department of the Alabama School of Fine Arts.
Jones was slated to read seven poems but was gracious to offer an encore to make the total eight. She read a selection of poems from dark // thing, Magic City Gospel, and her newest collection entitled REPARATIONS NOW! Those she read included “She Is Beauty, She Is Grace;” “Photosynthesis;” “What the Glass Eye Saw;” and “Viewing a KKK Uniform at the Civil Rights Institute.”
The poetry that Ashley Jones shared was a celebration of family, weaving personal narratives with insights from her mother and father, as well as a reflection on black experiences like that of Miles Davis and having toured Birmingham’s Civil Rights Institute.
Lamenting a world reeling from teh COVID-19 pandemic and the loss of her father last year, Ashley Jones spoke of her appreciation for poetry as a tool to deal with grief. “Art helps one to process the world.”
Jones’ playful exploration of form fosters variety and depth as she read from poems borrowing from Shakespearean sonnets and utilizing such diverse forms as acrostic, contrapuntal and ghazal.
After the reading Jones signed copies of REPARATIONS NOW! and spoke with fans and enthusiasts, and copies of the poetry collection are also available online. Jones assured those in attendance that when confronted with the uncertainties of life, “The poems always know something that we don’t know.”