For more than a decade, poetry has been the place of freedom for Heights resident Justin Jannise.
“There are in life so few opportunities to be free, free in the sense of just being your weird self, and poetry for me is that place,” Jannise said.
Jannise is sharing his weird self in his debut poetry book, “How to Be Better by Being Worse.”
Jannise, who studied at Yale University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Houston, is the winner of BOA Editions’ 19th annual A. Poulin Jr. Poetry Prize. Out of an original pile of 700 manuscripts, Jannise’s “How to Be Better by Being Worse” was chosen by judge and poet Richard Blanco.
In April of next year, Jannise’s manuscript will be published by BOA Editions as part of the A. Poulin Jr. New Poets of America Series with a foreword by Blanco. The book is a collection of about 40 poems that play with the idea of self-help.
“There are four rules that break the book into behaviors that are good,” Jannise said. “Sometimes the poems obey the rules and sometimes they break them.”
Jannise described his style as tongue in cheek; poems that are funny and entertaining but have an underlining seriousness.
“It’s a little bit funnier because it’s so sad,” Jannise said. “It’s not the intention. It’s just like the colors I paint with.”
Blanco said that when he judges poetry, or any form of art, there’s usually a sense of familiarity about it. But when he was reading Jannise’s manuscript, Blanco said he felt like he had never read anything like it.
“What’s interesting about Justin and his voice is his ability to be gritty and brutally honest,” Blanco said, “but at the same time also very tender and compassionate both with himself and with the world around him.”
While Jannise has had poems appear in various literary journals, such as Copper Nickel, Yale Review and New Ohio Review, he is no stranger to rejection letters. One of the poems included in the collection is titled “Self-Pity” and was inspired by a rejection.
The letter told Jannise that the speaker in his work was wrapped in self-pity, and they couldn’t tell if he was serious or not.
“The poem ‘Self-Pity’ basically outlines how we all feel sorry for our self at times and may not be willing to admit it,” Jannise said. “In a way it’s a universal human experience to feel sorry for oneself when no one else does. When you need pity and no one else provides it.”
One of Jannise’s favorite poets is Kay Ryan. Jannise said her poems are short, yet they are somehow “magically” so much more than the length of them. The quality he admires from her work is something he also strives to have in his.
“It’s that same kind of funny, quirky and cleverness, but with undercutting seriousness,” Jannise said.
Jannise also has a poem in “How to Be Better by Being Worse” that is dedicated to Ryan by imitating her style.
The Heights neighborhood also serves as inspiration for Jannise. He often makes use of the esplanade on Heights Boulevard, enjoying the sights. He also frequents EQ Heights, 1030 Heights Blvd., and Boomtown Coffee, 242 W. 19th St., to write.
Jannise is finishing his two-year term as the editor-in-chief of UH’s literary magazine “Gulf Coast.” Soon he will be teaching at the university.