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Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum: Poetry=amk

A Tribute to Jake Adam York

The day I learned of Jake’s death, I saw him everywhere. At the mall, the grocery store, the coffee shop. In the days that followed, it was his voice that followed me. Now, several months later, it’s his empty office, the faint outline of adornments removed from his door, the silence he leaves behind.

I didn’t know Jake well. We were friends and were planning on getting together over the winter break, but we were not yet close. I first met Jake over ribs when he came to my MFA Program at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale to read from his second book, A Murmuration of Starlings. Like many who met him this way, like many fans of his work and students of poetry, I could not help but notice the twinkle in his eye when I asked him about line breaks or how to keep a reader engaged in a long poem. He made me feel included even though he was the "up-and-coming poet" and I was the guy who picked him up at the airport.

I, of course, ran into him at AWPs after that over the years and enjoyed talking with him when I had a chance. Then, three years ago, he actually approached me at AWP-Denver and said something along the lines of, “Andy, I like that poem you sent us (Copper Nickel), and I really want to publish it, but it needs help.”

“Awesome,” I replied, “Let’s do it.” I was really thinking, “Holy shit, I’ll do whatever you say,” but I quickly learned that Jake’s idea of working on a poem really meant to work on it, not just cut a few random words and lines that didn’t appeal to him but to discuss our differences over the poem and resolve them via revision. Over a three year period (during which time he was insanely busy writing a new collection of poems, researching and writing a book of nonfiction, and teaching at various institutions), we improved that poem astronomically; it was published in Copper Nickel last fall; and, just recently, the book in which it serves as the title poem was picked up by the University of Arkansas Press.

That was Jake. I didn’t know the man well but owe him an enormous debt of gratitude. Given the profligacy of tributes to Jake, given the way he lived his life (he had an energy and zest for everyday existence not many poets, editors, and/or academics can boast), given all the heartfelt, tearful words spoken at his memorial here in Denver, given all the close friends and loved ones left behind, many owe Jake a debt they cannot repay.

This is one reason his loss resonates with so many. And there are, of course, all those poems Jake didn’t get the chance to write. He had so many more in him. The books he did have the chance to write will be read and studied and written about and emulated for generations to come. And more of his work is yet to be published (his next book, Abide, is forthcoming with Southern Illinois University Press). But those poems will be different; they will be poems published by Jake Adam York after his death. They will be constructed of words composed by someone in our past rather than someone in our present, our future.

This tribute addresses the legacy of Jake’s poetry as well as his legacy as an editor and mentor and teacher of young writers and future editors. Zachary Macholz’s essay “The Multiplicity of our Historical Life: The Poetry of Jake Adam York” carefully examines Jake’s trilogy of books about the martyrs of the Civil Rights Movement. The interview, work, and testimonies of two of his undergraduate students and Copper Nickel editors, Leia Darwish and Ali Pearl, speak to his power as a mentor and teacher to those hungry for knowledge.

I, personally, don’t have much to add. I only hope this tribute speaks to Jake’s love and skills as a poet, as a humanist, as an editor, as a mentor, and as a teacher. I hope we have done Jake well.

"Always Be Remembering: Ali Pearl's Eulogy for Jake Adam York, Delivered at His Memorial in Denver This February"

"Brilliance & Bourbon: An Interview with Two Former Students Who Knew Jake Well"

"The Multiplicity of our Historical Life: The Poetry of Jake Adam York" by Zachary Macholz

"A Poem and Reflection on Jake Adam York" by Leia Darwish