Arkansas Delta Poet Releases Book Of Collected Verse

Apr 23, 2015

Born in 1935, poet Jo McDougall grew up on a rice farm in the Arkansas Delta. She began writing at an early age, first publishing in her early twenties. Since then, she has published five poetry books and one memoir and has taught at universities in Arkansas and Kansas. In the Home of the Famous Dead, her book of collected poems, is out now from the University of Arkansas Press.

Jo McDougall
Credit Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture / Jo McDougall

In 1980, she enrolled in the University of Arkansas’s burgeoning creative writing program, receiving her MFA in 1985. There, she studied under many giants of Arkansas letters, including the late Miller Williams and Jim Whitehead. She said Fayetteville in the late 70’s and early 80’s had “the sting of competition in the air.” It was a scene where the state’s leading poetic figures, like C.D. Wright and Frank Stanford, lived and worked.

Many have noted the brevity of her poems, as well as their focus on small-town characters and the realities of rural life.

“What Jo does is portray the living with a calculating neighborly eye. Her art is an art of gossip, of keeping tabs, of how we talk to others after long bouts of thinking,” said Carl Adamshick, in the foreword to her new collection. “The book is a string of small, unincorporated towns with neighbors and strangers all keeping their proper distance. And Jo is an elected official, a sort of emotional tax collector entrusted to tell their stories.”

In a review of In the Home of the Famous Dead, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette critic Philip Martin said of McDougall, “[her] work descends from the Imagist poets: H.D., William Carlos Williams, the early Ezra Pound and, today, Gary Snyder and Robert Bly. What Pound would identify as precise visual images is the hallmark of her work.”

McDougall will be appearing at the Arkansas Literary Festival this Saturday, as part of a panel of Arkansas poets.

Other upcoming readings include:

April 28: Reading: Ozark Poets and Writers Collective, Fayetteville, Nightbird Books, 7 p.m.

May 16:  Signing, WordsWorth Books, Little Rock, 3-4:30 p.m.

May 21: Reading , Museum of the Grand Prairie, Stuttgart, 5:30 p.m. (with Kansas City poet Mary Frances Wagner)