Poet-a-Day: Meet Ashley M. Jones
I first learned about Ashley M. Jones from Megan Willome’s post Creating an “I Love Poetry Moment”: Magic City’s Ashley M. Jones. When I learned that Jones was a lover and writer of poetic forms, I immediately ordered, then devoured, her collection dark / / thing. I’ve since enjoyed corresponding with, and following on Facebook, a woman whose life reflects as much truth-telling fervor as her poems.
Jones has two poems (from that collection I bought) in How to Write a Form Poem: a villanelle and a sestina. Below is a sneak peak—the first two stanzas—of her “Kindergarten Villanelle.”
“Kindergarten Villanelle” (excerpt)
I’m brown, he’s not. The blocks are blue and red.
Jake Jones and I play house every day—
in Kindergarten, it doesn’t take much to have a best friend.
I make his supper daily, plastic peas and bread,
we build skyscrapers with our blocks, we play—
I’m brown, he’s not. The blocks are blue and red…
—Ashley M. Jones
The villanelle’s refrains (lines 1 and 3) immediately set the stage for tension in this heartbreaking poem. (Want to know the rest? Buy her book. Then How to Write a Form Poem, too.) Here’s what Jones has to say about “Kindergarten Villanelle.”
Tania Runyan (TR): Tell me a little about the origin story of this poem.
Ashley M. Jones (AMJ): When I was in kindergarten, I had a best friend—a boy who was white. We shared a last name (Jones) and we played games together every single day. It was a sweet friendship. One of our favorite games was “house,” where we’d pretend to be husband and wife in a little wooden kitchen. We played blocks together. We fingerpainted together.
One day, my friend’s parents came to visit, and although the memory is mostly foggy, I remember quite clearly the look on their faces seeing him play house with me. I didn’t understand it then—all I knew was that my friend was telling me that those were his family members, and I was happy to see them, even from afar.
The next day, my friend played with another student—a blonde white girl. They wouldn’t let me play with them. They gave no reasons. My five-year-old mind was blown, to say the very least. I was hurt. That was my first experience with racism, and I’ve never forgotten its sting.
TR: Why did you choose to write the poem as a villanelle? Or did the form “cause” the poem to happen?
AMJ: I’ve tried to write a poem about that experience so many times, it’s hard to say how I landed on the villanelle, but my best guess would be that I always turn to this form when I want to obsess. I wanted to be trapped by the idea that my friend and I were different colors, that we were best friends. I wanted to swim in that and sprinkle the details about what happened around it so the reader could feel the same cage I felt in that moment, and, in many ways, the cage I still feel. It isn’t that I’m obsessed with the idea of having a white friend—it wasn’t his whiteness that drew me to that friend back then. I’m more obsessed with the idea that racism is an ever-present thing. One cannot escape it.
TR: What do you hope poets can learn from a book like How to Write a Form Poem?
I hope poets learn that form is truly for everyone. Like poetry at large, it is too often taught as something highfalutin or somehow representative of someone’s superior intelligence. Instead, form can be a useful tool for any poet, and it can serve the purpose of supporting the content, not just demonstrating a particular poet’s technical skill.
About Ashley M. Jones
Ashley M. Jones, current poet laureate of Alabama, holds an MFA in Poetry from Florida International University, and she is the author of Magic City Gospel (Hub City Press 2017), dark / / thing (Pleiades Press 2019), and REPARATIONS NOW! (Hub City Press 2021). Her poetry has earned several awards, including 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. Her poems and essays appear in or are forthcoming at CNN, The Oxford American, Origins Journal, The Quarry by Split This Rock, Obsidian, and many others. She teaches at the Alabama School of Fine Arts, she co-directs PEN Birmingham, and she is the founding director of the Magic City Poetry Festival.
Photo by Rain0957, Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by Tania Runyan.
How to Write a Form Poem: A Guided Tour of 10 Fabulous Forms
With How to Write a Form Poem by your side, you’ll be instructed and inspired with 10 fabulous forms—sonnets, sestinas, haiku, villanelles, pantoums, ghazals, rondeaux, odes, acrostics (the real kind), found poems + surprising variations on classic forms (triolet, anyone?), to challenge you when you’re ready to go the extra mile.
You’ll also be entertained by Runyan’s own travel stories that she uses to explain and explore the various forms—the effect of which is to bring form poetry down to earth (and onto your own poetry writing map)!