The Lighthouse Writers Top-Secret Blog

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Memories of Jake Adam York

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.

on porch

On the porch at the 2012 Lit Fest.

jake sarah lf 2008

At the 2008 Lit Fest with Sarah

FoodHandoutsLitFestParty

Teaching us all about whiskey.

more jake on yk

Jake on why we should all read Yusef Komunyakaa.

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.

If you have a memory to share, feel free to do so in the comments. UPDATE: Here are some great links sent by fellow poets Chris Ransick and Joe Hutchinson.

37 comments on “Memories of Jake Adam York

  1. Joseph Hutchison
    December 17, 2012

    A beautiful post, Andrea. Jake would have been gladdened and I imagine a little embarrassed to see it. He took praise and conflict with the same equanimity—just too generous by nature to do anything else. I’ve written briefly about him here: http://perpetualbird.blogspot.com/2012/12/adios-jake-adam-york.html It feels impossible to put our rare but somehow significant encounters into words. I’ll miss him.

  2. andreadupree
    December 17, 2012

    Thanks, Joe. I love your post–thank you for that. I know what you mean about his being a bit embarrassed–I was fighting the urge to wax poetic (which I’m not) and instead decided to think of just how much he always gave (as you say–generous by nature). It’s still just unbelievable, isn’t it?

  3. Chris Ransick
    December 17, 2012

    Thanks for remembering Jake here. I feel privileged to have known him and thankful for all his contributions—to Lighthouse, to Denver, and not least of all, to poetry. This is such a sad time.

    • andreadupree
      December 17, 2012

      Chris, I always loved your and Jake’s talks–on Becoming a Sensuist, and of course the one where you fed us and plied us with alcohol (A Gourmand’s Tale…pictured above). Hugs to all you poets.

      • Chris Ransick
        December 18, 2012

        Andrea, yes . . . these and other memories of Jake are running through my head. He and I spoke not too long ago about how we would get together for BBQ (his best) and brews (my best), and we didn’t get to it, and now I cannot. It’s wretched.

  4. Courtney Downing
    December 17, 2012

    From the little I knew Jake, I knew him as a teacher and a poet, and I am sorry to not have gotten to know him better in either capacity. This is truly a loss for us all.

  5. Jessica Chickering
    December 18, 2012

    Jake impacted my life in too many ways to even mention. He acted as a mentor, teacher, adviser, and trusted friend. He has been present for me through some of my life’s most important moments. He told me I could write, he encouraged me to believe in myself, he employed me as a student assistant for a year in college so I could continue at CU Denver, he helped me to write about my grandmother’s passing, supported me when my marriage ended, and reached out at times I didn’t even realize I needed to hear from him. I am devastated by this loss. I hope he knows how much he changed my life forever and for the better. He was a brilliant, talented, and kind person – the world has truly lost someone special.

    • andreadupree
      December 18, 2012

      Jessica, thanks for sharing. How wonderful that you have the lasting gift of writing to help… Hugs.

    • mjhenry
      December 18, 2012

      Thanks for your thoughts, Jessica. We all learned a great deal from him, didn’t we.

    • Betsy Sweeney
      December 19, 2012

      Jessica
      Jake, we always called him ‘York’, was the kind of passionate teacher that still teaches the underside of poetry to me every time I open a New Yorker and every time I encounter poetry. As a student in His Poetics class at UCD I learned to read in an entirely new way and exposed me to a world of poets and his Murmurings. I’m just so sad for his current students and the writers who never go the chance to listen to one of his lectures and admire the man’s true style in shoes. Spread his poetry like starlings from barn to barn.

  6. Aray
    December 18, 2012

    I heard it said somewhere else, by someone who knew Jake better, that he had a way of making you feel brilliant when of course he was the brilliant one. He had a rare and memorable generosity. He knew so much about so many subjects—poetry, history, culture, race, barbecue, Pootie Tang (about which we had a really fun discussion that made Jake light up in that mischievous, wry, engaging way of his)—that he could be intimidating. But beyond his one-of-a-kind intelligence, there was a willingness, even an eagerness, to invite others in, to make them feel part of the interesting life he was leading, the interesting things he was thinking. Behind that incredible brain, there was a sweetness, a vulnerability to life, that made a big impression on me. He was so fully alive. I’m grateful to have known what little I did of him, and I’m so sorry for his family’s incredible loss.

    • andreadupree
      December 18, 2012

      You nailed it, Amanda. Thank you. I’ll never forget the two of you talking books for the salon on “taste” at that strange restaurant. For some reason I see you two sitting behind a grand piano, but I do know enough to know that’s an hallucinatory memory.

    • mjhenry
      December 18, 2012

      Well said, Amanda. That’s exactly how he made you feel, and you couldn’t help but admire and look up to him. In a world where everything’s been done before, he had a way of making things new.

  7. tqtyson
    December 18, 2012

    I am still just so shocked that he’s gone. I wish I’d known Jake better, but I do know that we shared a love of good food and drink and we shared our Southern heritage. I remember chatting with him about how much I both love and hate Mississippi. He completely understood. Just about a year ago, one of my beloved college professors sent out an email with a link to one of Jake’s poems. I was excited to see my two worlds colliding and introduced them virtually. I always got a little thrill when I saw them correspond via Facebook. It seemed right that his work would resonate with the part of Mississippi that I love. I am terribly sad for his wife and his family and his students and his friends.

    • andreadupree
      December 18, 2012

      Thanks for this, TQ. I always got a kick out of the two of you together talking Southern things, just for the rhythm of your voices. Especially when you did the salon with the delicious bonus lemon cake (pie?) at the end.

  8. marilyn krysl
    December 18, 2012

    I first met Jake soon after he began teaching when we read together at the Boulder Bookstore. I’d just retired as head of the Creative Writing Program at U. of Colorado Boulder, and I was a generation older than Jake. On several occasions he invited me to read at CU Denver, and published poems of mine in Copper Nickel 11. But because I no longer drove, I seldom came into Denver, and Jake and I met mostly at readings.

    Once when he’d invited me to read—I think the occasion was the release of a new Copper Nickel—there had been an awkward moment when he struggled to arrange the mike, and he fell down. I had earlier experienced a ‘plague year’ of unexpected and harrowing bouts of vertigo. In my case the cause was extreme stress: I tended to toss too many balls in the air and then I tried to keep them there. I suspected that Jake might be suffering for a similar reason, and urged him to discuss this with his physician.

    Though our paths crossed infrequently, he later took me aside. You were right, he said. I was taking on too much, just like you.

    I’m still ‘taking on’ the fact of his absence. I hope we’ll do a memorial of some sort.

    • andreadupree
      December 18, 2012

      Dear Marilyn: I’m so sorry your lost your poetic partner in “taking on too much.” I love this memory, though–thank you for sharing. I know CU is thinking of doing a memorial on Jan. 30, but we’ll be sure to keep people posted. I’ve heard of lots of people who want to do a memorial reading of some sort. Hugs.

  9. Mark Irwin
    December 18, 2012

    Dear Light House Friends,

    I was stunned and deeply saddened to hear of Jake’s death and I’m hoping that some of us might get together with Mike and Andrea at Lighthouse to read some of Jake’s work, and other work in tribute.

    I was always impressed by his grace and generosity, especially by those poems for martyrs of the Civil Rights Movement. Another aspect of Jake’s generosity could be found on his various blogs. He wrote about the work of several poets on the Kenyon Review Blog.

    I was moved when Jake wrote about my “Poem Beginning with a Line by Milosz” on that same KR website, but what I realize now is that Jake embodied all the virtues that I tried to express in that poem (generosity & selflessness) especially in its opening:

    “The most beautiful bodies are like transparent glass.”
    They are bodies of the selfless or of those newly
    dead.

    I’m posting my poem in Jake’s memory, Jake who gave so much to all of us and to the community.

    Mark Irwin

    Poem Beginning with a Line by Milosz

    “The most beautiful bodies are like transparent glass.”
    They are bodies of the selfless or of those newly
    dead. What appears transparent is really flame
    burning so brightly it appears like glass. What
    you’re looking through is the act of giving: One
    thing in life needed desperately, given to another,
    or perhaps life itself. The most beautiful bodies
    are not transparent, but sometimes the color
    of lead, like the elephant whom a child with some
    peanuts lifts by the trunk in his hand in the swirling
    dust, so that it appears he has lifted a monument
    or a city with all its pain. The bodies that seem
    transparent are made of an ice so pure it appears
    to be glass sweating, where you, desiring another,
    glimpse your own face that weighs nothing and is burning.

    Mark Irwin
    Originally appeared in Poetry, May 2011

    • mjhenry
      December 19, 2012

      A gorgeous poem, Mark. Thank you for sharing it.

  10. andreadupree
    December 18, 2012

    This is gorgeous, Mark. I am so glad you posted it… even though it makes me teary. We’ll definitely keep you posted about some sort of tribute. There’s a movement afoot. Hugs and love, a

  11. Page Lambert
    December 18, 2012

    Andrea, Michael, Mark… such beautiful thoughts about Jake.

    I didn’t know him well but our paths crossed when he brought the Women Writing West conference to campus and invited a few of us contributing to Copper Nickel 10 to read …Teresa Jordan, Maria Melendez, Alyson Hege, Pam Huston, Deirdre McNamer, me… it was wonderful to get to know him and Jennifer, and to hear some of his work.

    I have a fun photo of him I’ll email you. What a sad week, especially for all of you. Perhaps we could all perform a “literary act of kindness” on behalf of Jake, as people around the nation are performing “26 Acts of Kindness” on behalf of those at Newton.

    Thank you.
    Page Lambert

    • andreadupree
      December 19, 2012

      This is wonderful, Page, and thanks for the picture, too. xo

  12. Carolyn Daughters
    December 18, 2012

    A friend of mine (and graduate of Kenyon) sent me the following link: http://www.kenyonreview.org/2012/12/in-remembrance-of-jake-adam-york/. I’ve been listening to recordings on the site of Jake reading a few of his poems.

    The memorial will be held at St. Cajetan’s on the CU Denver campus on Wednesday, January 30, 3-5 PM.

    I can’t believe it. I don’t know what else to say.

    • andreadupree
      December 19, 2012

      Carolyn–thank you. I did see the KR tribute and we heard of the CU memorial. Thanks for keeping us posted. I’m still in disbelief, too. Hugs to you.

  13. Kelleen Zubick
    December 19, 2012

    Thanks Andrea and all for the contributions here about Jake. Because I was at the Colorado Council on the Arts when Jake came to town, I got to know him as a fellowship applicant, then winner, then reader, who even then brought the house down, and through the publication of his first book. I loved how he seemed both completely at home and surprised by his receptions and his success. And I loved the way he treated the office of the arts council–a drop in place to share what he was up to and thinking about poetry, or just dropping off a present of a broadside for no apparent reason. But I think we both knew that he was there to raise the expectation that poetry and the literary arts would have a place at that agency and be funded by them. His advocacy was artful and I believe that was also the first year that Lighthouse (in the form of a very small grant to Michael for a reading series) was funded by the arts council. It seemed he wanted poetry to capture everyone, and often when he brought in a visiting poet through CU, he worked with me to make those talented people available to the poetry in high schools project I was working on. For me, the word “abundance” is connected to Jake , and I’m so grateful for the man, the poet and the grassroots-grower of poetry.

    • andreadupree
      December 19, 2012

      This is so lovely and captures how kind of catholic his interests were in the arts. He certainly had the talent and pedigree to be a complete snob, but he wasn’t interested in that. That’s part of what made him extraordinary. Hugs to you, Kelleen, and thanks.

  14. Maria Talero
    December 19, 2012

    Once Jake and I (we were colleagues at UCD, I in the Philosophy department and he in English) were sitting diagonally across the table from each other at one of the old Lab at Belmar’s after-events (always at that same pizza place). A long, crowded table, and Jake had someone else sitting on his other side who tried to strike up a conversation with him suddenly by asking him “So what are you?” Jake responded, slowly, unperturbed: “What am I? That’s a good question.” And then he turned to me and said, “Maria, what am I?” I think I trembled a bit, internally, under the impact of those luminous, restless eyes (what was it about them, anyway? too smart? too tender?) and the awesome responsibility of that question, handed to me so casually over pizza. I thought about it for a second or two, gathered myself and said, “You’re a poet.” And he liked that.

    • andreadupree
      December 19, 2012

      Aw, Maria. What a great story. Thank you…

    • mjhenry
      December 19, 2012

      And I like that story. Thank you, Maria.

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  16. Marvin I. Guymon
    December 19, 2012

    I was working with Jake on finishing up Copper Nickel 19, and we had just gotten issue 18 into the world. I really have no way to verbalize what his loss means to everyone he knew and to those he inspired. I’ll basically provide some information for folks who might want to know.

    There will be a memorial in honor of Dr.York at St. Cajetan’s on Auraria campus, Wednesday, January 30th, from 3-5 PM. All are wecome, all are invited.

    Also, his wife Sarah and his brother Joe have suggested that donations in his memory can be given to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

  17. Kim
    January 6, 2013

    This is a late comment, but I wanted to chime in. I was behind on this news and then within the last several days, I’ve encountered it in 3 or 4 entirely different places. I am shocked and so sad, each time. I met with Jake at the Lit Fest literary journal panel two years ago. I was proud of the poems I’d submitted and thought they were finished, but Jake had read my work very seriously and made comments that cut to exactly what the poems–not finished–needed. He invited me to resend them to him after revising. I did, and those poems just came out in Copper Nickel.

    Every time I have picked up one of Jake’s books, I’ve felt like there was so much I could learn from him. In particular, his ability to address race as a white Southerner was such an eye-opener for me. I missed his chapbook workshop last year but comforted myself with the idea that I would have lots of chances to work with him in future sessions. Now I don’t.

    • andreadupree
      January 16, 2013

      Wonderful note, Kim, and it’s a solace that we still have those books to learn from…

  18. Linda S. York
    January 16, 2013

    Thank you all for you comments, memories and insights into Jake’s unique social and literary attributes. As we learn to live with our devastating loss, it is a joy to hear about his relationship with his students and his colleaues and to know he challenged all of you to be better writers. We were the lucky ones — to have reared him in Alabama — and to watch him mature into the kind, generous, talented, and witty man he was. Our family circle has been broken, but these memories will help us mend.

    • andreadupree
      January 16, 2013

      Thank you for this, Linda, and as a mom I both hurt for your loss and marvel at the extraordinary sons you raised. Hugs to you and your family from all of us at Lighthouse.

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