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It’s too soon to write this blog post, but that’s fitting because it was much too soon for the world to lose Jake Adam York. He was a driven, conscientious, passionate poet and advocate for poetry; he was a funny, charming, and adventurous public speaker; he was a generous friend to Lighthouse and to all of us who work or spend time here. Because we already miss him so, we’ve been trawling for his traces on this blog and beyond. There are links to many things that will remind us of him, and I know there are newsletter profiles and podcasts of some of Jake’s readings or events, which we’ll also dig up and post.
We’ve known Jake since 2000, when he moved to Denver to teach at CU. From the moment he sought us out to talk about the community here–something he did with all literary and arts organizations, I think–he simply became a sporadic-but-regular part of things. I remember about six years ago, he gave a talk on “Originality & the Writer” for a Saturday morning Writer’s Buzz. It was at the Tattered Cover LoDo, and I was embarrassed because not that many people showed up—maybe twenty-five total—due some cruelly nice weather and snarling traffic. Jake didn’t flinch at the smallish Saturday morning crowd, though. He seemed downright pleased to be there. He treated us to the wide-ranging musings of his mind, his talk laced with humor, depth, and his trademark sharp intellect. This was after his debut book Murder Ballads was published, and he tracked some of the inspiration behind the book, and also tried to reassure us all that originality, the way it’s commonly thought of, is impossible. Better to embrace the long conversation that all literary pursuits truly are. After the talk, when we went out for a bite, I remember learning of the early blush of his courtship with Sarah, who would become his wife and obviously the love of his life. He was off to buy some sorbet to make her something divine.
Those who have not yet experienced Jake’s poetry should check out Murder Ballads, A Murmuration of Starlings and Persons Unknown. He’s a poet deeply concerned with moral failings and courage, especially related to race. As he puts it on his website, the published collections are part of a larger project, a decade’s work of elegiac poetry “dedicated to the memory of the martyrs of the Civil Rights Movement, known and unknown.” He came out of Alabama, and his work wrestles with the history and legacies of Jim Crow. As a white writer, that no doubt created tension for him, but he ran toward that tension rather than shying away.
Five days ago, I got Jake’s exciting proposals for this summer’s Lit Fest. He was going to offer seven workshops for poets and prose writers, and they make me too sad to even write about. So we dug up some write-ups of past workshops and salons: on The Documentary Writer, Prose Poems & Paragraphs, his chapbook class, and Leopards Without Spots. For little slices of memory, check out the write-ups of salons he took part in, including his tracking the history of Sazerac whiskey for A Gourmand’s Tale (who will ever forget the samples he passed out, especially as they’re on the verge of passing out themselves?), his salon on politics and writing (the DNC Special), and his take on Becoming a Sensuist. There were so many more highlights, like his tribute to Yusef Komunyaaka and his salon on the Creation of Taste that I hope many of you got to see and experience. We might be able to unearth the podcasts.
There’s nothing we can do at Lighthouse to fill the gap Jake leaves behind. Many of us, myself included, took for granted that we would always get to turn to him and his particularly big-hearted and -brained take on anything literary, political, historical, or barbecue related. Thank god for his books and writings! I keep thinking, though, of his beautiful wife Sarah and his parents and brother, and my heart breaks for them the most. For all that we will miss his large presence as a friend, a poet, a cultural force in Denver, it’s impossible for me to even begin to fathom his absence in the daily lives of those closest to him. Our hearts and thoughts are with Sarah, his family, and closest friends.