(Illustration by Jason Brown)
We at Popnihil are devastated by the sudden loss of Jacksonville’s poet laureate Alan Justiss. He was incredibly supportive of this zine (he wanted two copies of the first issue for his files!) from the very beginning, and we were beyond overjoyed when he agreed to contribute a story to the newest issue. Of course when you’re a writer who was as intensely prolific as Alan, it can never be just one story. The day I came over to talk about story ideas with him, Alan pulled out a box filled to the brim with prose pieces, and gave me my pick of at least seven. And then said, “Ah, but now we have to work together on the editing!” Edit Alan Justiss? Christ, my heart couldn’t take the strain. But he was very receptive to every suggestion and modification. Towards the end of his life, he told me that he was shifting over to prose altogether, showing me a piece he had spontaneously banged out on his typewriter the night before. The imagery was gorgeous, and it had this rhythm to it that reminded me of e.e. cummings. Always creating, always writing.
Unlike many writers who are selfish with both their advice and their time, Alan was a willing mentor to many an aspiring scribbler. You’ll find his DNA buried deep within the sentences of so many Jacksonville writers and artists. But it wasn’t just that, he constantly emphasized the importance of practicing your craft regularly and often. When I last saw him on Friday night, after I’d dropped off some groceries and visited for awhile, he shooed me out, telling me that now it was time for me to go home, turn on the computer, and do what I was meant to do…
I’m not trying to come off as a longtime confidante, I only knew the man for one year, but there is a flood of memories from even one year. (What was it that Lou Reed said? My week is your year?) I remember how every time I came up to his apartment and knocked on the door, he’d bellow, “Come in this house!” I remember how even in the hospital, he demanded constant updates on my job interview with the Hall, at one point leaving me a phone message that said, “Who ever heard of a poet getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Guess I’ll have to learn how to sing!” I remember around Christmas talking about how we both liked to put off opening presents until the very end, infuriating everyone. I remember taking him out to breakfast at a Riverside haunt, and the owner treating him like royalty. I remember him gleefully flirting with the ladies; whether it was his eyes lighting up whenever he saw Jessica walk into his living room, chatting up Rose right in front of her boyfriend (sly devil), or calling Bethany “that delightful girl.” I remember him playing me Van Morrison songs on a sweltering Sunday afternoon. I remember us both being astounded at how his strength was seemingly restored coming out of the hospital, and watching him wield his cane like a sword, just like William Burroughs did. I remember him giving me a treasured Bukowski bio to read while on business travel in the summer, and quizzing me about it when I got back. I remember him one day exclaiming, “Y’know, you’d think I was gay, the way I can get all of these guys to do all my errands for me!” I remember him telling me about his first trip across the country as a young man fresh out of the military, seemingly awed still how a square from Jacksonville was suddenly running into famous poets and Manson girls and yippies and y’know. I remember doing weekly beer runs for him when he was churning out nine poems a night last autumn; he’d instruct on the proper way to dispose of the empties so that the staff at his apartment building would be none the wiser. When he asked if I minded lugging a case of beer up seventeen floors, I said that it was the least I could do as a patron of the arts. He always got a chuckle out of that.
His total dedication to his craft is so inspiring in an a time when we’re so distracted by media (social and otherwise) that we can’t even finish a complete thought. We won’t soon see the likes of him again.
Download/Listen: Angel’s Blue Hour
(From the Alan Justiss/Regal Monkey/Elephant See album I Have Only A Few To Read)