I'm thrilled to host Ashley Jones for this week's Story Cures Interview. Ashley is one of my favorite poets (and one of my favorite people!), and I'm honored to share her words on reading, writing, creativity, and grace. Birmingham people, check out one of Ashley's newest projects, Magic City Poetry Festival.
1. What's something you've read recently that has stayed with you?
Gosh, let’s see. I’m studying/teaching Gwendolyn Brooks this semester, so one poem of hers that I can’t quite forget is “The Ballad of Rudolph Reed,” which talks about a Black family who moves into a white neighborhood and gets brutally murdered by a white mob. Her language is so simple and yet so full. This is a skill I admire in poets, which is why Lucille Clifton is such a huge inspiration for me. By that token, her poem which begins “i am running into a new year” is amazing—that last line which can be read two ways (“and i beg what i love and / i leave to forgive me”) has been ringing in me since New Year’s Eve. I’m also reading Celia Cruz’s autobiography in Spanish, and I don’t have the book in front of me right now, but a memory the interviewer remembered has impacted me—the day this interviewer met Celia, Celia had just found out she’d have to be hospitalized for cancer. Despite this, Celia was loving, attentive, kind, and full of joy. She was so radiant and so full of absolute love, and I want to strive toward that spirit which I find in her (songs, the memory of her life) and in my late grandmother and in God.
2. What's one of your favorite writing prompts?
That’s a hard question! I can’t say that I have a favorite. One thing that I like to do and that I tell students to do is to try something new, to stretch beyond what you think you can write. Right now, I’m attempting to write in the sonnet form as an homage to Gwendolyn Brooks. It’s not my natural mode of writing, but it’s taking me to some interesting places. So, maybe find a poet whose writing you love and whose style isn’t your natural style. Imitate that.
3. Why do you think it's important for us to nurture our creativity?
For me, creativity is a way out. Out of my body, out of whatever feels like a straightjacket. It’s often a way for me to express myself and to get my thoughts organized and fully realized. Being creative can make us feel more human—it can teach us empathy and it can teach us grace! For me, poetry is a place where there is joy, and where we can each speak and be heard.
4. Where have you noticed grace recently?
If we’re to take the word “grace” in a religious sense, as the unmerited favor of God, I see grace in each morning I wake up and take a breath. In each song I hear and in the poems I read. My world is filled with so much beauty, and it’s in this that I see divine grace. But there’s also grace within human relationships. There’s grace in the writing of poetry—I know I feel an unmerited favor when I come to a blank page and put a poem together—what joy to be able to play with language and use it to create something new or to express a truth.
5. What are your thoughts on any connections you notice between reading, writing, creativity, and/or grace?
The divine exists everywhere. For me, it’s in poetry, it’s in music, it’s in a well-crafted joke, it’s in my mom’s laugh, it’s in a plate of food prepared carefully and lovingly, it’s in a student finding new ways to express herself on the page/canvas/etc. The world is constantly giving us these little gifts, and that’s grace. Every day I can write instead of die—grace.
Ashley M. Jones received an MFA in Poetry from Florida International University (FIU), where she was a John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Fellow. She served as Official Poet for the City of Sunrise, Florida’s Little Free Libraries Initiative from 2013-2015, and her work was recognized in the 2014 Poets and Writers Maureen Egen Writer’s Exchange Contest and the 2015 Academy of American Poets Contest at FIU. She was also a finalist in the 2015 Hub City Press New Southern Voices Contest, the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award Contest, and the National Poetry Series. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in many journals and anthologies. She received a 2015 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award and a 2015 B-Metro Magazine Fusion Award. She was an editor of PANK Magazine. Her debut poetry collection, Magic City Gospel, was published by Hub City Press in January 2017, and it won the silver medal in poetry in the 2017 Independent Publishers Book Awards. She currently lives in Birmingham, Alabama, where she is a board member of the Alabama Writers’ Conclave , co-coordinator of the Nitty Gritty Magic City Reading Series, and a faculty member in the Creative Writing Department of the Alabama School of Fine Arts. Visit her website for more information and links to some of her work.