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The poetry of Jake Trussell

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Throughout our lives we are developing and perfecting our ways of communicating with each other. We talk, we sing, we make music, we write stories, we write history, we sometimes write poetry. Jake Trussell made use of many of these communication methods. Poetry was a thread throughout his adult life and gave a view into his mind.

Jacob “Jake” Ransom Trussell Jr. was the editor of the Kingsville-Bishop Record-News after the death of newspaper editor Ed Erard in December of 1970. Prior to that, Trussell was the managing editor of the Record for several years. Jake Trussell was born Dec. 12, 1915, and grew up on the family farm south of Kingsville. He graduated from H.M. King High School in 1934. He developed an interest in journalism by writing for the high school paper. He attended Texas A&I as a history major and continued to show an interest in journalism by writing for the South Texas student newspaper. Ed Erard supervised the high school and college papers.  

Trussell did not complete his history degree at A&I. This was a regret of his and he intended to one day return to complete the degree. He viewed Kingsville as a place of no opportunity after graduating from high school. His father wanted him as a partner on the farm. Trussell worked various jobs until wanderlust drew him away on a 4,500-mile trip into Mexico and up the west coast of California. 

He returned home to Kingsville and commented, “When I got back home, I suddenly realized that there wasn’t any place in the world as good as this town.”

Trussell Sr. and Trussell Jr. partnered to work the farm raising registered herefords, cotton and feed.

In 1938, Trussell went on a blind date with Lois May Minter of Hebbronville. That sparked a change in Trussell’s outlook on life. They married in 1940 and moved to the “old Butler home” in Ricardo. Over the years they had two sons and a daughter. In 1944, Erard contacted Trussell and invited him to cover the Brahma game at Harlingen. The Corpus Christi Caller-Times also needed a sports reporter. It was a part time job that involved watching sports, something Trussell loved to do. The title of the new sports column was “Brahma Bull.” Later, in 1948, Trussell was hired full time as an advertising man at the Record. He was in the right place at the right time to become the sports broadcaster three afternoons a week for Kingsville’s new radio station, KINE. On Saturday afternoons he emceed a swing music radio request program. Trussell said, “I’m doing what I like to do and what to me has always been fun.”

Movies were another passion for Trussell. He often viewed multiple movies in a single day. These were reviewed in his column “Making the Rounds.” Trussell loved expressing a conflicting opinion in both of his columns, Braham Bull and Making the Rounds. Erard gave him a free hand to write what he wanted. Trussell considered it a perfect job. He wrote many hard news stories including articles for the Associated Press. He went on ride-alongs with local police and was “adopted” by NAAS Squadron VT-21 to report on pilot training and ride along on training exercises.

Poetry began to appear in Trussell’s Making the Rounds column. He slipped in a poem here and there over time. His earliest poetry is dated 1937. Short poems from the early years were his choice for the column. The public liked the poems. In 1957, he gathered up 30 of his poems and printed them in a small booklet titled “Collected Poems of Jake Trussell.” Trussell wrote in the foreword of the booklet that the objective was to start an argument about the poems with the question: “Are the poems included herein good or bad?”

The second poem in the booklet is:

Creation (1937)

God made man, the earth, the sky

God made morning, noon, the night

God was so proud

Of His sun, His cloud, 

He said, “I did it and they should know it”

So God created the world’s first poet.

Much of Trussell’s poetry revolves around his insatiable love of jazz and jazz musicians.  He wrote poems to musicians such as Lester Young, Duke Ellington, Eddie Galvan, Cotton Erwin (of Kingsville), Hank Illinois, Jimmy Rushing, Armand Hug and Count Basie. In 1958, he penned a poem titled, “To Jelly Roll.”  Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe, nicknamed Jelly Roll, was an American ragtime and early jazz pianist and composer.  

Trussell’s poetry included topics of sports, life, death, places he visited, jazz and his personal philosophy. He was a member of the Poetry Society of Texas, American Poetry League, and the Society of Composers, Authors and Artists of America. As the years passed, readers began to send poems to him. He printed some of them under the title “Today’s Poems” within his “Making the Rounds” column. He encouraged young and old to present their poetry.  

The movie reviews written by Trussell garnered positive and negative responses from readers. Some readers bemoaned the fact they had not taken his advice before spending $1.75 to attend a particular movie. Other readers expressed their differing opinions of the movies. Trussell printed a poem of disagreement sent by Marge Frosch in January of 1970.  She wrote, “‘The Lion in Winter’ was splendid / Despite your contrary vote. / The problem, I think, was your vision: / In both of your eyes was a mote!”

Agriculture and farm tours have been a part of Kingsville’s history for decades. It shouldn’t be surprising that a poem titled “Farm Tour” appeared in “Today’s Poems” in July of 1970. It described that year’s farm tour led by County Agent Bret Triplett. The author was T.A. (Tom) Aldous who was visiting the Kingsville area from Alaska. The poem concludes, “On your minds, my thanks / again I say. / For me this has been a / wonderful day.”

Jake Trussell’s poetry developed an international audience. His poem “The Anachronist” was translated to French by Dosaire Dion-Levesque, a journalist for the French language newspaper Le Travailleur. This was a poem originally written in 1938 while Trussell was attending Texas A&I.

Jake Trussell was only 55 years old when he died of a brain aneurism. His wife, May, commented that he had not felt well for a few months. She insisted on him going to see a doctor. The doctor’s prescription was for Jake to slow down. Slowing down wasn’t something Trussell could do. In his poem “The Way I Live” he wrote, “The way I live / is as if / I’d been condemned to death / and would die tomorrow”. 

This energy and drive empowered him to put more living into his short years than many do in life spans twice as long.

In 1938, Trussell composed the poem “Exit” telling about the kind of funeral he wanted.  Part of the poem reads:

“When my inevitable final hour upon this earth arrives

    I want a swing band

       Free beer,

          All my friends,

             A red and black coffin, 

               And a few flowers – 

Simply because I like flowers”

His was a short life, a full life, an exciting life doing all the things he loved. The Record printed three of Jake’s poems next to his obituary. Today’s Poems within the “Making the Rounds” column had evolved into “Poetry Corner” as a showcase for local poets. The Kingsville-Bishop Record-News was flooded with tributes to Jake, many of them poetic tributes. A Jazz Memorial at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi would fulfill many of the funeral requests Jake made in his poems. Poetry was just a part of his life. Jake Trussell wanted life and people to be interesting and he certainly practiced what he preached as he was truly interesting.

If you enjoyed reading about The Poetry of Jake Trussell please let Daniel Thacker of the South Texas Archives know at e-mail address Daniel.Thacker@tamuk.edu, or make a call to the South Texas Archives at (361) 593-4154. Check their web page at http://archives.tamuk.edu/.   

Author Pat Allison, has been sneaking about the inner sanctum of the South Texas Archives for several years and can be reached at pja@atcweb.com.      

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