I want it to stop. This is the third month in a row that my prefatory blog stands as homage to a poet whose work and way of being in this world of poetry I’ve admired. I am lucky to be a citizen of this special world, lucky to have been given the opportunity to know a poet like Jake Adam York, who has died of a severe stroke at the age of forty. I wanted to know him more, know him better.
Not very long ago, I was presented one of those gifts the universe offers us now and again; I spent a couple of hours in a Decatur bar with Jake and Natasha Trethewey. I was there to visit with Natasha’s poetry class and read some poems, and Jake was a Visiting Faculty Scholar at Emory University's James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study of Race and Difference. We hoisted adult beverages and snacked on bar food. We spoke, of course, of poetry, civil rights, and the people we knew. Jake struck me a seeker, as simultaneously tough and soft. He was affable and smart, but he also seemed to have a low threshold for suffering stupidity. I already knew that he was talented, as I already was a fan of his poetry.
In the months that followed, I am lucky that I was able to share things with him as Facebook friends, and am lucky that a poem of mine found a place in most recent issue of the literary journal at which he served as an editor, Copper Nickel. (Ironically, that poem touches on my mother’s severe stroke that has kept her diminished mind and body in a nursing home these past years.) His fellow editors there, Nicky Beer and Brian Barker, are also friends, and friends of Connotation Press, too, young poets who will carry on the good fight in Denver. My thoughts go out to them and to Jake’s students, to Jake’s wife, Sarah and his family, and to Jake’s friends who knew him longer and better than I. The poetry world is smaller and more fragile today, darker and sadder but, thanks to Jake and his spirit, no less hopeful and still full of the indomitable force of possibility. Amen. I’ll miss you. Memorial contributions can be made to The Eden Project, 156 South 9th Street, Gadsden, AL 35901, or you can make a donation in his name to the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization close to Jake’s heart.
This was Jake’s last Facebook post. As his death occurred in the wake of the horrible news from Newtown, CT, perhaps these words will help to guide us all toward what needs to be done:
I grew up with hunters, around guns, with gun-owners who would be the first to say some people shouldn't have guns, people who would take away guns from the careless and the crazy. I'm just asking where are those voices? Did Hitler kill people with paint? Did Osama bin Laden kill people with religion? I'm just saying that instead of saying "Now is not the time to talk about gun control" we should say what we should be talking about, not shutting up or shutting down.
Here are links to a variety of Jake’s poems, prose pieces, and more:
"Elegy becomes impossible at some point because consolation is impossible because at some point the violence becomes so vast and terrible it cannot be undone. I never really thought the consolations of elegy are perfect—when I read “Lycidas” or “Adonais” the consolations seem to me excessive and that excess seems to me a measure of the impossibility of a perfect balance—but I continued to wonder how the elegy might perform its work accepting the inevitability of its own imperfection, how it might leave a residue of violence or loss as a way of recognizing the impossibility of rescinding loss or suffering." Jake Adam York