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  • By Jessica Carr

Writing Her Truth

Ashley Mace Havird Named 2018 Caddo Parish Poet Laureate

(THE FORUM, Shreveport, April 23, 2018)

Growing up on a tobacco farm in South Carolina, Ashley Mace Havird was her grandfather’s greatest companion. She remembers walking the property with him and taking in the farms and swamps and woodlands of the American South. This experience would later inspire both the novel and poetry collections that Havird would go on to write.

As a child, Havird remembers feeling joy in the third grade when she completed a school writing assignment. She knew that she liked writing, but at that age she dreamed of being many different things when she was older.

“I wanted to be a number of things as a child: astronaut, missionary, archaeologist … then when I was older, park ranger, folk singer, social worker. I was reluctant to commit until I was forced to declare a major as a junior at USC,” Havird said. “I went for English, moved into creative writing at the graduate level – because I loved language and literature, yes, but partly because I believed that as a writer – at least on one level – I really didn’t have to give things up. For example. I might never BE an archaeologist, but I could create one, as I did in my novel, ‘Lightningstruck’.”

Years later, Havird lived in Charlottesville, Va., with her husband while he was completing his doctorate degree. Her husband received a job offer as a professor at Centenary, which brought the pair to Shreveport. Thirty years later, they are still here. Havird has built an impressive career as a published poet and novelist. Her first novel, “Lightningstruck,” was published in 2016. She has also published three award-winning collections of poetry. She says she often writes poems to explore a question or subject in order to reach a (not “the”) truth.

“Poetry is an art form like painting, sculpture or music – I’m just a word person, so it’s not so much a matter of expressing myself as much as creating a piece of art,” she said. “Poetry is probably the art form that makes us most human. We are the only species that uses words, and we’re the only species that knows it’s going to die so we have the human condition to deal with. Poetry has the ability to reach down into the inner self and take hold of something.”

For eight years, Havird taught creative writing at an afterschool program for the Renzi Art & Education Center. She taught kids that poetry doesn’t necessarily have to rhyme and encouraged them to focus on what they wanted to say.

“When you’re talking to kids, they haven’t learned to be afraid of poetry. Adults have this fear of poetry – they are afraid they won’t understand it or that it is a puzzle. Kids are natural and open. I would use exercises based on Shakespearean sonnets. They responded to it, and they had fun with it.”

Poetry is an art form that has a way of connecting people. Havird says she writes poetry because it is important to her, and she hopes she makes a connection with the reader in the process.

“When the writer of the poetry and the reader of the poetry are connecting, they sort of join hands – even though the experience isn’t the same, there is a connection, and the reader will say, ‘Yes! This is how I feel, but I didn’t have the words for it. This makes sense to me. I am not alone.’”

This year, Havird was named the 2018 Caddo Parish Poet Laureate. She will serve a three-year term through March 2020. Caddo Parish is the only parish in Louisiana to recognize and engage an outstanding poet and to have its own Poet Laureate, who is chosen using the same guidelines as those employed in the selection of the Louisiana Poet Laureate. Havird is excited to serve in the position.

“I was thrilled and honored,” she said. “It’s a great honor, but it’s also a great responsibility. I have ideas about what I want to do with the position. I’m asking everyone I know about what ideas they have.”

In the future, Havird is looking to collaborate with Red River Radio. She hopes to get a poetry program started there where she can introduce other poets in the city and have them read on air.

“I hope to increase the visibility and accessibility of poetry here in Shreveport – specifically for the local poets, who are so diverse.”

Havird will continue to work on her art and says that she is currently working on another book of poetry.

– Jessica Carr

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