A Poem and Reflection on Jake Adam York

by Leia Darwish


       –after Current Disturbance (1996), by Mona Hatoum

In the monorhyme
of two hundred twenty
eight pine cells, sheathed
in the organza matrix
of a chicken wire
a single bulb lights
the switch-box
like a Rhopilema ballerina
cloched in a corps de ballet
of stellar globes—filaments
like embryos of fright.
They ballon and chassé
to the invisible cadenza
of a 60 cycle hum,
pantomimes of captive power
in a state of fluctuating,
perpetual resistance.

The goal of Jake’s Advanced Poetry Workshop was to produce a chapbook. Though I didn't really know it at the time, it was unlike any other workshop I've taken. Jake asked us to bring two to four of our poems that we felt represented our body of work. Then we discussed each person's concepts and methods in class and, afterward, were asked to decide how we wanted to draw out the concepts from our presentations for our chapbook.

We read books like C.D. Wright's Rising, Falling, Hovering; Anna Journey's If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting; and Natasha Trethewey's Native Guard. We learned to craft the arc of a book and how to conceive of a group of poems in dialogue with each other. In other words—Jake's words—“Not just a 'greatest hits,'” but a real poet's project.

We never read our poems aloud in workshop, and we often discussed several poems of ours at a time. At the end, Jake asked us to sew the bindings of our chapbooks with tools he provided. He even made his own. Again, not like any other workshop. And blissfully small. I think we only had seven people.

When Andrew asked to see a poem Jake worked on with me, I was hesitant. Gaudy Cadaver, my semi-ekphrastic chapbook centering around concepts of power and violence, ultimately turns toward the struggle of Palestine.

I was nervous to propose the idea. It isn't one of the “safe” topics of conversation like the extinction of polar bears or BP’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Palestine is not something people talk about openly. I had no reason to believe Jake would ever be unsupportive, but you never know. You usually try to keep politics off the table in a student–teacher relationship.

Jake, of course, was incredible. He accepted the challenge of the project and helped me write about this subject through ekphrasis, my favored mode. He was patient with my then-unhealthy obsession with high dollar words. He suggested looking up artists from Palestine, etc. That's how I discovered Mona Hatoum. Apart from falling in love with her aesthetic, I found that emulating her approach in my ekphrastic poems helped me ease into the more explicit poems that occur later in the chapbook. I read interviews where she talked about creating installations that are beautiful but, upon closer inspection, fraught with danger. That was how I approached the poems, one of which is “resisdance.”

It meant—still means—the world to me that I was able to complete this project under Jake's watchful eye. He even nominated me for the AWP Intro Journals Project with three of the poems from my chapbook. It was a turning point for me, the first time I realized what I could really do with poetry. It kills me to have to say that I probably shredded the hard copies Jake wrote comments on. I wasn't always a writer so taking and keeping notes did not come naturally. I don't remember Jake's feedback on this poem, but I can tell you that his inspiration and guidance was more than enough. Jake was skilled at making a few, pointed suggestions rather than a multitude of extremely minor and overwhelming comments. He trusted us as poets. And we responded.

Leia Darwish has a BA in English literature/creative writing from the University of Colorado–Denver. Her work has appeared in Copper Nickel, Blackbird, and Evening Will Come. Former managing editor of Copper Nickel, Leia is currently an MFA candidate at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA.