The Inimitable JAW

Joseph A. West. “Ol’ Uncle” Joe. Grusemus Weirdfield. JAW. Call him what you will, depending on your mood (or his), Joe West has meant many things to many people over the years. To this weird scrivener, he has been an inspiration and a friend. My first exposure to the inimitable fellow came through the pages of Old Uncle Joe, which was being edited and published (back in the nineties) by A. M. Decker. Fortuitously, I was working at the very print shop in which this esteemed publication was being brought together. I was, to say the least, fascinated by this collection of weird writings and artwork I had been tasked to print and bind.

Subsequent to this I was invited by Mr. Decker to my first L.E.P.E.R. meeting, where I met Joe in the flesh. More importantly I had the opportunity to hear him recite his poetry (I believe it was the perennial favorite, “Blasted Hides”). Never have I been so entranced, astounded, and humored by a public reading than I had that day or since. If you have ever heard Joe read from his works, you know exactly what I mean. That Southern drawl, those animated pitches in voice and movement, all choreographed to weird perfection. Give me Joe any day over those so-called poet-laureates with their dry monotones. Joe West is the supreme poet-laureate of the weird.

This past year I have had the ultimate pleasure of working with A. M. Decker on a collection of Joe’s work entitled Aim High. Doing so has allowed me to uncover numerous pieces of poetry, prose, and (in particular) artwork which I had not previously been exposed to. Indeed, it is quite astounding just how prolific the “Ol’ Uncle” has been over the years. I don’t imagine myself being involved in many other projects within my lifetime quite so meaningful as this one. I feel privileged and honored to have been a part it. It has been a labor of love, to say the least.

Some of my fondest memories of Joe are spending time with him at his apartment on Bryant Avenue in Minneapolis, discussing various topics (weird and otherwise), and then heading down the road to the local ice-cream parlor to sweeten our palates. Joe always supplied more than an ample array of anecdotes to tickle my fancy. Other memories are of wandering through Lakewood Cemetery (culling curious names from the headstones there), as well as browsing many a secondhand bookstore with the ol’ bibliophile.

I’ve always appreciated Joe’s good humor and gentlemanly stance (though give the ol’ boy the poetry bone and you’ll see quite another beast), and perhaps most important of all his kindness and generosity, his sheer humanity.

Oftentimes, upon shaking hands in prelude to going our separate ways, Joe would state in that wonderful Southern drawl of his: “Maintain your personality.” I can think of no better parting words.

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