Jo McDougall To Read As Collective’s Featured Writer

Jo McDougall To Read As Collective’s Featured Writer
Jo McDougall

Jo McDougall

By Robert Laurence

“Poetry,” says Jo McDougall, “offers the surprise of metaphor and the passion of deep emotion, shaped by the discipline of craft.” Of course, prose as well can have surprise and passion, which is why she draws our attention to “the discipline of craft,” the craft, that is, of poetry. A craft that must be practiced, worked at, honed, perfected.

Jo McDougall will be the featured writer at the April meeting of the Ozarks Poets and Writers Collective, 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 28, at Nightbird Books on Dickson Street in Fayetteville. The event will help launch McDougall’s new collection of poetry, “In the Home of the Famous Dead,” just issued by the University of Arkansas Press.

She also has a new chapbook, “Under an Arkansas Sky,” from Tavern Books in Portland, Ore. Those books, and others that she has written, will be for sale at Nightbird, and available for the author to sign. Coffee, beer and wine are also available for purchase, but the listening is free and open to the public. Before and after McDougall reads there will be an open microphone for members of the public to try out their words on a generally encouraging and supportive audience.

Some years ago, I was chatting with another open-miker after an OPWC event, and I mentioned that I don’t write (or read, really) poetry.

“Not enough words,” said I. “I prefer prose.”

“Too many words,” responded my friend.

I get the point, and Jo McDougall’s work drives it home. She speaks lovingly of “the silences of poetry,” that is to say what’s not there: the white spaces on the page, the end stops, the punctuation, the pauses, the end-jammed sentences. Yes, she tells me, prose has metaphor, too, but it is the concentration of metaphor that draws her to poetry. (McDougall writes prose, too, including a well-received memoir, “Daddy’s Money.”)

McDougall has won many prizes and awards over the years since she earned her master of fine arts degree in creative writing at the University of Arkansas in 1985, including an Ad Astra poetry prize, several MacDowell Colony Fellowships, Arkansas Arts Council Fellowships, the Porter Prize for Literary Excellence, the DeWitt Wallace/Reader’s Digest Award, the list goes on and on. Now retired, McDougall lives and works in Little Rock.

Here’s why she writes: “To record life’s surprises, to stop them in time. When I write, I want my poems to connect with the reader.” And, of course, she is a reader herself. “I want writing that asks me to take it home in the palm of my hand.” She reads other poetry, of course, mostly contemporary poets, and fiction, mostly short stories rather than novels. And she finds art museums to be places full of ideas for her own writing.

Over the years, McDougall has read for the collective, and it warmly welcomes her back. Visitors to Nightbird Books the night of April 28 might recall that McDougall sometimes offers what she calls “a touch of sleaze” in her work, as do the open-mikers on occasion. The children are probably better occupied elsewhere that night.

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