To Understand the World


Ashley Jones Photo by Katherine Webb

Why Ashley M. Jones writes poetry.

By Javacia Harris Bowser

I have a confession: I am jealous of poet and educator Ashley M. Jones.

I don’t envy Jones because last year, at the ripe old age of 25, she was one of only six winners of the 2015 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, a prestigious award given annually to support emerging women writers with exceptional talent. I don’t envy her because she landed a dream creative writing teaching job at the Alabama School of Fine Arts (ASFA) as soon as she finished her graduate work at Florida International University. I’m not jealous of Jones’s book deal (her first full-length poetry collection will hit bookshelves in November) and I don’t envy her because last year B-Metro gave Jones their Fusion Award, an honor given to Birmingham residents who champion diversity, inclusion, and acceptance.

I am jealous of Jones because she is in love—with poetry.

Sure, I, too, as a writer and an English instructor at ASFA, have great affection for the written word, but compared to Jones’s passion for poetry, the relationship I have with writing is mere puppy love. Jones’s love for poetry is evident not only in her written work, but in every conversation you have with her, in every lecture she gives to her students at ASFA, and even in every post she makes to her social media channels. On any given day you’ll find her on Facebook gushing over a new book of poetry she just bought or old work she has just rediscovered. On Instagram you can see her as giddy as a schoolgirl with a crush on the boy next door as she posts pictures of her preparation for her latest lesson. And during football season, when her fellow Alabamians are posting chants of “Roll Tide” and “War Eagle,” Jones simply declares, “Go poetry!”

“Whenever I post on Facebook about poems that I like, it’s usually because I’ve read the poem and caught the Holy Ghost from the poem,” Jones says, laughing and raising her hands in the air in praise of poetry.  “The way that people use words and even the way their message is conveyed [through poetry] just seems more immediate, sometimes more sassy, sometimes more painful. It’s just juicier. And so that’s what I love about reading it and writing it.”

Oddly enough, Jones’s love for poetry began with the children’s book Harriet the Spy. “When I was really young I read Harriet the Spy and that inspired me to start writing,” Jones says. “I had a little spy journal that I kept. I recently found that notebook and I looked through it and in between all the spy entries, there were poems.”

Jones was accepted into the Alabama School of Fine Arts’ creative writing program her seventh grade year and there she began to polish and hone her writing skills. “Poetry just always seemed to be the most natural way for me to express myself,” Jones says. “I can say exactly what I want to say through poetry. That’s really the best way that I communicate anything.”

Jones describes the day she was notified that she’d won the Rona Jaffe Award as one of the best days of her life. “I couldn’t believe that I had won it,” she says. “I’m confident in myself for the most part, but I didn’t think that so soon after graduating that my work would be recognized on that big of a scale.”

Last fall, Jones was not only preparing for a trip to New York to accept her Rona Jaffe Award, but she was also starting a new job. She graduated from the Alabama School of Fine Arts in 2008 and less than 10 years later returned to the school to teach in the same department that helped shape her as a writer. “It’s still really surreal that there are kids calling me Ms. Jones and asking me questions like I know something,” she says.

But this young teacher knows plenty. She’s already developed a teaching philosophy that guides her in the classroom. “It’s important to remember that your voice is not the only voice in the classroom, especially in a creative classroom,” she says. “I’ve found that if you value a student’s creative journey and help them be their best self on the page or wherever, it’s a lot more helpful and it’s a better environment.”

Jones’s upcoming collection explores Alabama’s history, specifically its civil rights history, and her own experience as a black woman in the South. Putting herself in her poetry, Jones explains, serves a higher purpose. “As a modern black woman from the South, adding myself to the literary conversation is a way to diversify it,” she says.

Jones admits that all her accolades and accomplishments over the past months have put her under a lot of pressure. “You feel more pressure to perform well so you don’t disappoint people,” she says. But what keeps her grounded, of course, is her love for poetry. “But I think I’m getting over that and getting back to why I like to write,” she says, “which is just to write to understand the world and myself.”

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