Hello, Poetry by Ashley M. Jones

Ashley M. Jones will guest edit the May, June, and July/August issues of Poetry. Check back here for more posts from Ashley, and visit our Submittable page for guidelines on how to submit when we reopen on February 1.


I am deliberate and afraid of nothing.

—Audre Lorde, “New Year’s Day”

When my friend, Molly, gave me a piece of embroidery with this line in pretty colors, I thought it a thoughtful gift, one that has made me think of her each time I see it, now that she’s moved away from Alabama again on a new and gorgeous adventure. But I have also thought about what it means to be those things—deliberate and unafraid. What did Audre Lorde mean? Lorde, who I met—on page—in Dr. Aza Weir-Soley’s graduate course on her mentor, this poet whose name I’d seen printed many times but whose words had never driven their way into me like they did in her class. Lorde, who I have met and re-met through Aza, through her stories about Audre, through one of Audre’s plaques which Aza has at her home in Miami—a plaque which, Aza says, was asking to be brought out to meet me one night when I visited from Alabama. She needed to meet you, she said. And I felt it. Readers, don’t count me as too woo-woo just yet. I’m a poet, after all. I believe in the way words move, even from the Great Beyond. Lorde’s spirit of fearlessness was not, I discovered, a spirit of reckless abandon—I was to deliberately walk into life, not dive in without purpose, caution, faith.

And that brings me here, to this blog post. Here, introducing myself to you, a readership that does, I admit, scare me. Every American poet grows up hearing Poetry’s name and thinks it a great and almost-unreachable hilltop. Or ivory tower. Or gate which must be kept. I’m a Black woman poet from Birmingham, Alabama. I’m a literary organizer whose activism is in step with her work on the page. I’m a daughter who moved back home to Alabama to be near her incredible parents and siblings. I’m a sister who sings silly songs at the dinner table. I’m a woman with a penchant for buying shoes and who has an obsession with Gregory Hines. I’m not an ivy league graduate. I’m not published by the big five. I don’t have an agent and I teach writing to seventh through twelfth graders. But I’m a person who loves poetry. I’ve dedicated my life to it and to the people poetry represents. I’ve got three books in the world and I love each of them. I’m an advocate for the South and for my people. I’m here to be myself on the page and as an editor, and to do my best job at eliminating, at least during my tenure, the idea that gates have to be re-latched or refashioned or even made at all—they can just be dismantled.

I believe in what Harriet Monroe believed in—opening the arms of this magazine to that poetry which is here, also, for the love of poetry. And, here, I inject Lorde again—love of poetry means, to me, a love of the power inside each of us. Love of the heartbeat of the people. Poetry which seeks to tell truth and which seeks to reject anything resembling oppressive power structures. Poetry on page, on video, as expressed through the body or in visual art. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I write, and that’s what I hope to make space for during my term as a guest editor of this magazine. I will be deliberate in my actions, my words, my decisions in the Submittable pile. I will be deliberate in my commitment to my people and the ever-present need to make safe spaces for us to live and write. I will be deliberate in my radical kindness in an industry which can be so very unkind. I will strive to be unafraid in that I will enter every room knowing that I do belong there. I will show up as my authentic self, and that offering will be more than enough.

From Alabama to Chicago and all the spaces in between, I’m greeting you with curiosity, excitement, a healthy amount of nerves, and with all the poetry in my body—let’s share verse together.

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