About Jon Tribble, by his wife Allison Joseph Delivered on November 2, 2019
This October, the October of Jon Tribble's untimely death, is the 31th anniversary of Allison Joseph and Jon Tribble becoming "Jon and Allison"--or Team Jallison, as I liked to call us. Our lives were intertwined--lives of poetry and music, lines and signs, beauty and laughter. I miss him so much I physically ache.
Jon was born in Little Rock in 1962--a fact I didn't take too well when we first met--me being a black girl from the Bronx with Caribbean parents who married in London. The only reference I had in my mind for the city of Little Rock was little black kids being yelled at and spat upon by racist hordes. But Jon never shied away from both the beauty and the ugliness of the history of his particular South--writing about the dividing lines of black and white with humor, pathos, and skill. He taught me so much about the South—its music, its food, its folkways and back roads. Jon knew barbeque almost as well as his great friend, the late poet Jake Adam York, and I have fond memories of the two of them debating the merits of various regional styles of bbq. I sometimes felt uneasy in some locales we visited—after all, we were an interracial couple for decades--but no one ever stepped to Jon when I was with him. He had his father's pastor charm combined with his mother's social savvy about who to trust and who to fear.
Indeed, Jon is the product of a family where service to others is paramount. Jon’s parents, Clifford Ray and Betty Tribble, were Methodist missionaries within the United States, and his father served as director of Camp Aldersgate, a camp for children with difficult medical needs, a place that looms large in Jon’s literary imagination. How weird and wonderful it must have been to grow up on the grounds of a camp! Jon’s late sister, Elisabeth “Beth Ann” Luther, spent her life in service to others, writing grants for social service agencies in both Arizona and Washington State (a trade she passed on her son, my nephew Jonathan, who has been a success at grant writing in his own right, in addition to bringing music and light to Phoenix with his Full Moon Festivals ), Jon’s brother, who is with us today, is the medical version of Jon—a doctor twice over, an infectious disease specialist who Jon was as close to as any two brothers could possibly be—the two of them shared childhood fights (I seem to remember a story about a stray dart and a stained Sunday suit) and movie theater jobs. Through David’s placement as a researcher in Egypt, Jon was able to write poems that connected his southern past with his international concerns. Many of these poems are in Jon’s second book, And There Is Many a Good Thing (Salmon Poetry).
Jon's poems didn't come easy to him--he didn't think of himself as naturally gifted, and often recalled how, upon entering graduate school at Indiana University, our mutual professor David Wojahn told him that as a poet, he had "no form and no music." Instead of sulking, Jon took that to heart, and crafted his poems through multiple revisions, working the language in his head, hearing the stories of the South in his brain. He would work on a poem until it was just right--no showing of early drafts for input--and then show me work that I could barely find fault or flaw in. He worked steadily and silently, content to edit the work of others (which he did in a big way with both Crab Orchard Review and the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry). I pushed him to let those myriad stories of Arkansas days and nights come to fruition in his work. I'm so glad I did, because he's left us the legacy of a great mind at work. His vision is of a world made sane and kind, despite the brutalities of racism and sexism. His poems are "Gifts Inside and Out"--to quote the title of one of Jon's own poems.
What did come easy to Jon was promoting and publishing the work of other writers—poets, fiction writers, nonfiction writers, even photographers (he became quite a photographer himself in order to have interesting covers for Crab Orchard Review). Jon served as an editor or publisher ever since his undergraduate days at UALR, where he edited the campus literary journal, Equinox. He, of course, is one of the founders of Crab Orchard Review, SIU Carbondale’s long-running literary journal, and is the Series Editor of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry (over 90 individual books of poems published since the Series’s inception). But he also worked on Indiana Review, Crazyhorse, worked with our good friends in Glenview on one of their Aeolian Harp anthologies, and even worked with poets and writers in India on the RL Poetry Award. Jon was truly a fine literary citizen—that legacy of care is in everything he did as a writer, poet, teacher, editor, and mentor.
I am stuck in my grief right now--it is raging and enormous. But I am so glad that I had thirty plus years of Jon's love, his friendship, his wisdom. I cherish all the places we traveled to—whether it was just down the road to Murphysboro to get 17th Street bbq, down to Florida for key lime pie, or out to San Francisco for the meal of a lifetime at Restaurant Gary Danko. I will remember all our hours in the car, singing along to his myriad self-made CDs, sequenced alphabetically by artist. Jon had a restlessness behind all his careful trip planning—which meant sometimes, you have to stop at a gas station in the middle of Louisiana because the boudin looks so good, and how can you pass that up?
I am so proud to have been Jon’s wife, so proud of his legacy. And though my pain is vast and seemingly endless, I am ready to be the one who reads Jon's poems and carries his tales and songs to audiences I know will appreciate them.