Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art to livestream discussion with 2020 Auburn Witness Poetry Prize winner

Published: October 12, 2020
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The Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University will livestream an online discussion and reading featuring 2020 Auburn Witness Poetry Prize winner Matt Donovan and Utah’s Poet Laureate Paisley Rekdal at 6:30 p.m. CT on Thursday, Oct. 15.

Part of the museum’s “Third Thursday Poetry” series, the event will take place on the museum’s Facebook page and YouTube channel and will be highlighted by Donovan reading his award-winning poem “The Etymology of Gazebo.” Rekdal, a two-time Pushcart Prize winner and this year’s contest judge, also will give a reading of her own during the event, which will be held online for the first time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“While the museum is open to the public with reduced capacity, a live virtual event gives viewers an opportunity to experience the arts from anywhere,” said Cindi Malinick, director and chief curator of the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art. “Digital outreach is one of the ways Auburn’s museum can provide a forum for a conversation. An academic museum contributes to the intellectual life of a university through campus partnerships like Third Thursday Poetry.”

Donovan will receive $1,000, and editors will publish his poem—a response to the 2014 police-involved shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice—in the Southern Humanities Review.

Donovan is the author of two collections of poetry—Vellum (Mariner 2007) and Rapture & the Big Bam (Tupelo Press 2017), as well as a book of lyric essays, A Cloud of Unusual Size and Shape: Meditations on Ruin and Redemption (Trinity University Press 2016). His work has appeared in numerous journals, including AGNI, American Poetry Review, the Believer, Gettysburg Review, Kenyon Review, Poetry, Seneca Review, Threepenny Review and Virginia Quarterly Review.

Donovan has received a Whiting Award, a Rome Prize in Literature, a Pushcart Prize, a Creative Capital Grant and an NEA Fellowship in Literature. He serves as the director of the Poetry Center at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Rekdal was taken by the power of Donovan’s poem while reading this year’s submissions.

“One of the hardest things to write is a poem that responds to a galvanizing national event without dissolving into sensational imagery or simplifying outrage,” Rekdal said. “This is a poem that certainly expresses outrage, but does so with such careful attention to our language of memorialization and memory, that the reader is able to feel both the tremendous and violent loss of [Tamir] Rice and the insufficiency of our ability to remember itself, an insufficiency supported by the hollowness of our own words. It’s a delicate, ambitious and moral poem that manages to balance a startling array of tones.”

Third Thursday Poetry is a monthly series that hosts award-winning poets from across the country. It is funded in part by grants from the Alabama State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts, and additional support is provided by Auburn’s College of Liberal Arts, the Department of English and Southern Humanities Review.

The award is given annually for a poem of witness in honor of the late poet and Auburn alumnus, Jake Adam York. York, who died in 2012 at age 40, was a celebrated poet and fifth-generation Alabamian who first honed his literary gifts as a student working with Auburn’s Department of English faculty. He went on to author four collections of poetry, including the highly lauded 2008 “A Murmuration of Starlings,” an elegiac work in memory of the martyrs of the Civil Rights movement.

According to Rose McClarney, associate professor of English and editor of Southern Humanities Review, the Third Thursday Poetry Series is an inclusive and cross-disciplinary literary program that brings poets from across the nation to Auburn, and into the great location of the visual arts museum, to give readings and speak. University students may meet and learn about the writing lives and practices of poets whose work is taught in their classes, or students who have not yet had much chance to engage with contemporary poetry and encounter it at the museum may be introduced to the diverse possibilities in writing today.

The audiences at these free events (and participants in open mic sessions for local writers, which have typically begun each event) also include people of all ages and backgrounds, bringing together a range of community members in a convivial atmosphere with food and drink.

About the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University
The museum is open to the public with reduced occupancy and adheres to the university guidelines established for A Healthier U. Exhibitions on view through Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, include “L’Affichomania: The Passion for French Posters,” “Nurture:  Audubon’s Nesting Imagery” and “Underground Images: A Half-Century of SVA Subway Posters Created by Women." "Out of the Box: A Juried Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition" continues through 2021, with a site-specific architectural sculpture by internationally renowned artist Patrick Dougherty. Admission is free. For more information, call 334-844-1484 or visit jcsm.auburn.edu

About Southern Humanities Review
Southern Humanities Review has published poetry, fiction and essays since 1967. The well-established and respected journal has included work by some of America’s finest writers over the past 50 years. Today, the editors are continuing and expanding that tradition with the quarterly print journal, as well as with online features and newer initiatives including the Witness Poetry Prize in honor of Jake Adam York. York wrote poems that examined race relations in the South, celebrating the triumphs of the Civil Rights movement and questioning, as a native son of the South, his own complicity in its tragedies. The high number and quality of the contest submissions from which Donovan’s work was selected evidence both the ongoing relevance of poetry of witness and the vibrancy of the current literary community of which we are a part.

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn’s commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.