Before my partner and I left for New York City Saturday, December 15th, to gather a visiting friend, helicopters flew over on their way to close-by Sandy Hook, giving the day an even more ominous feel. That day and the day before—whether because I was rattled or sleep deprived with two new kittens—I had several odd moments where I thought I saw an animate figure out of the corner of my eye. I wondered if visual things of this nature happened before a stroke.
All the more strange to Sunday find Joe York’s post about his brother. It deeply upset me, and I thought about Jake for the rest of the day. Randall Horton called me early evening with the news that Jake had passed away. Finding out by phone instead of Facebook was a relief, but the news was no easier to grasp.
I first came to know Jake around 2005 or 2006. I had begun writing my Elements collection, and my dear friend Soham Patel was still living in Colorado. She told me to check out the journal that Jake Adam York was editing—Copper Nickel. I was so impressed with Copper Nickel—how beautiful the magazine was in terms of design, how much thought went into ordering content, and the caliber of work overall.
I know from years of editing experience that my poem “Copper,” must have been a design or layout nightmare upon acceptance. But Jake never bellyached about it, as my Texas brethren would say. In fact, he seemed to take delight in the challenge and asked me later about my “Nickel” poem, which I had not yet written.
It will come as no surprise to those of you who were close to Jake that writing “Nickel” expressly for him and the journal felt just plain good. During this correspondence, my admiration for his editorial work intensified. I then bought A Murmuration of Starlings to find out what Jake’s poetry was like. I was blown away.
I think one of the reasons that Jake’s death hit the poetry community so hard—besides the obvious ones was this: Jake was doing such important work among our contemporaries in critiquing systems of power. In my mind, Jake brought his poetry face-to-face with some of the most difficult questions in our country’s history with regards to race and violence.
In 2010, I chaired a panel at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference entitled A Chorus of Hauntings. I had written my part of the panel on my grandfather who passed away in south central Texas and the mysterious appearance of a blue parakeet in that red-dirt, windmill town after his death. I remember Jake’s part in the panel making so much sense to me because we shared southern roots and a particular context for “hauntings.”
Noah Eli Gordon has spoken elsewhere about the worth Jake found across aesthetic affinities. This was something else for which I felt a profound admiration in Jake. Other gifts Jake gave to me were conversations about career matters at a pivotal time in my transition from graduate school to my tenure-track position at Pace University. Jake also introduced me to new poets by way of Copper Nickel with whom I will have lifelong dialogue.
I could tell from the Copper Nickel reading in Denver in 2010, and his interactions with students, that Jake was a devoted teacher and highly respected by his students and his peers. More than that, he was clearly loved. Jake was someone I looked at and thought—this is the kind of writer, teacher, and editor that I endeavor to be.
I haven’t spoken much with Jake the last couple of years. I saw that he won the NEA at the semester’s end and thought I would email him later to congratulate him. It makes me very sad that I waited to do so.
Even though I wasn’t as close to Jake as so many others that grieve his loss, I feel so sad that he’s gone, and I will miss him. My heart goes out to his family, his wife, and all those who were privileged enough to know him better than I.
Deborah Marie Poe, December 2012