Jo McDougall Dixie Knight

DeWitt native and current Poet Laureate of Arkansas Jo McDougall has been given the Porter Fund’s Lifetime Achievement Award, given out every five years to an established Arkansas writer.

“McDougall is the fourth Arkansas writer to be given the Lifetime Achievement honor following Donald Harington in 2004, Miller Williams in 2009 and Charles Portis in 2014,” a press release said. A prize of $2,000 accompanies the award. McDougall will be recognized in a ceremony and gala at 6:30 p.m. June 20, 2019, at the William J. Clinton Library and Museum.

McDougall has authored a memoir, “Daddy’s Money: A Memoir of Farm and Family,” as well as six poetry collections: “The Woman in the Next Booth,” “Towns Facing Railroads” (the stage adaptation of which premiered at Arkansas Repertory Theatre in 2006), “From Darkening Porches,” “Dirt,” “Satisfied with Havoc” and “The Undiscovered Room.”

She includes a note on her website about her work:

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“Life surprises. That’s why I write — to record those surprises, to stop them in time. Poetry offers a deeper look into the absurdities of the world — the juxtapositions of tragedy and joy, the fantastical and the mundane — than one sees on the surface.

I eavesdrop on people. I want their stories, the ones they tell and the ones they don’t. I like a sense of place. I want to know, in a poem, where I am standing. And I sometimes like a touch of sleaze.

When I write, I want my poems to connect with the reader. When I read, I want writing that asks me to take it home in the palm of my hand.”

The Porter Fund was founded in 1984 by novelist Jack Butler and novelist/lawyer Phil McMath in honor of UA Fayetteville English Professor Dr. Ben Kimpel, and has been awarded to over 30 poets, novelists, non-fiction writers and playwrights. The Porter Fund Prize was named in honor Kimpel’s mother, Gladys Kimpel Porter.

For a glimpse of McDougall’s work, check out this poem from her collection, “In the Home of the Famous Dead: Collected Poems,” available from University of Arkansas Press at uapress.com. 

The perfect visit. We pay and we go in,
the way we first enter a hospital room
except that we don’t have to talk to anyone
and the men if they wear hats keep them on.
We know this is not the house they knew,
not the way they knew it, anyway,
when they were eating and laughing and having colds.
The best furniture has been removed, and the rugs.
What’s left, the chintz and brass, is pissy stuff.
Still, there’s a whiff of bacon in the kitchen.
We shuffle along beside the velvet ropes,
subdued. A small boy tries to cross under,
not yet afraid of dustless, perfect rooms.

Correction: A previous verison of this article incorrectly listed the title of McDougall’s 1996 book as “From Darkening Torches.” The name of the book is “From Darkening Porches.”