The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

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The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Morgan Shiver, Contributor • June 20, 2024

Poets speak to students, faculty

Love, segregation and rural life

Miller Williams and Jo McDougall, two award-winning poets from Arkansas, read and discussed their poetry Thursday night before a small audience comprised of students, faculty and fans in McCord Auditorium as part of the Gilbert Lecture Series.

McDougall took the podium first, reading from her newest collection of poetry, Satisfied with Havoc. She maintained a light-hearted mood even when her readings dealt with serious subjects such as love, segregation and life in rural Arkansas.

“I like to return to a central figure in my work — the bottom lands farmer or his wife,” she said.

McDougall was born and raised on a rice farm in southern Arkansas and many of her poems reflect her farm roots. Though she now lives in Kansas, McDougall still feels a kinship and love for her Arkansas soil.

“I don’t want to be buried in Kansas — put me in Arkansas dirt,” she joked.

McDougall’s more serious poems dealt with her daughter’s death from cancer five years ago. She cites loss as a place to draw poetry from.

“The country of grief is a strange and mystical place,” she said. “I’ve not quite figured it out.”

McDougall has been writing since her 20s, but did not pursue her MFA until her early 40s, which she earned at the University of Arkansas. Now she is the author of five volumes of poetry and has won several awards.

“May you find something to lighten your life,” she said as she left the podium.

Williams continued the reading from his own work, both previous and forthcoming. His latest work, from which he drew some poems for the reading, is Some Jazz a While.

The first poem he read was written with his granddaughter, singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams, when she was five years old. Though his poems also covered a variety of subjects, he says that all poems are about human beings, regardless of the overlying topic.

Many of his poems dealt with aging.

“We know how we feel about newborns and the newly dead — but there’s a long stretch in between that we need to get straight,” he said.

Williams is also from Arkansas, where he is a professor at the University of Arkansas and founder of the University of Arkansas press. Though as a student he was told that he had no verbal aptitude and should major in the sciences, he is now the author of 30 works, 14 of which are volumes of poetry. He was also chosen to read his work at President Clinton’s second inauguration, one of only three poets chosen to do so at an inauguration.

After Williams completed his reading, audience members had the opportunity to purchase the poets’ works and have them signed while chatting with the authors.

Judith Greene, a communications student at Brookhaven, came to the reading because she often attends programs by The Writer’s Garret. She was not familiar with the authors, but was impressed with the readings.

“He took the most simple things and made them surprisingly beautiful,” she said about Miller’s work.

The Writer’s Garret, one of the sponsors of the program, is a literary center in Dallas that works to bring many writers to the public, emphasizing contemporary literature. SMU was one of the first partners when the Garret was started 10 years ago, and they continue to produce programs together.

Thea Temple, the head and one of the founders of the Writer’s Garret, encourages SMU students to pay attention to contemporary works and authors like Williams and McDougall.

“Contemporary literature is about who we are as a people, today,” she said in an e-mail interview. “Some of these writers might be our Shakespeares, our Brownings.”

The Writer’s Garret is hosting several events in the future that might be of interest to SMU students, who can receive a discounted charge if they display their student IDs. Francine Prose will speak as part of The Writer’s Studio on April 10, followed by Umberto Eco on June 12.

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