Reflections on Jake Adam York
We will swim from the wreck
as no one drowns and stand
from the water inside our names,
our names ours at last, this poem
in our pockets like a charm
we turn as wealk home again
gleaming in the delicate light
of the bright, unfalling stars
If there is a solace in anybody’s too soon gone, it is that perhaps a piece of him or her will continue for our own witness. Jake Adam York was a poet of witness who told the tales of those too soon gone, and made us a better, more ethical people for our being forced to see clearly, “our names ours at last.”
I knew Jake for just over a decade, a time in which we both began careers in Colorado–he at the University of Colorado, Denver, me, first at CU, Boulder as an Instructor, and then as a Professor at Colorado State University. I like to think we grew up together. Always kind, he was a generous champion of poetry, and an elegant and haunting poet who truly did speak truth to power.
I remember early on (circa 2000) he asked me to read for a poetry festival at UC Denver, on a beautiful spring day. He introduced me so eloquently that it was one of those times when you don’t quite know how to read up to the occasion. I did my best, which wasn’t too hard, because Jake inspired me to be a better poet. Another memory, some years later when I was running the reading series at CSU, I had him up to read with Elizabeth Robinson. Another gorgeous spring day in the Rockies, we had a picnic in our backyard before the reading. I think I bbq’d chicken (Jake liked bbq). Two very different poets, Jake and Elizabeth, my students adored both of them, with one enthusiastic first year MFA saying, “I can’t believe they’re both here on the Front Range!” He ended up writing a great paper on Murder Ballads, and discovered his own true subject was where he was from. That’s part of it; Jake had a way of reminding us where we are from. These days, I say I’m from Colorado—it’s where I’ve lived on and off for more than half my life. Something folks are calling “the Colorado Renaissance” is afoot, and Jake was a foundational part of it. Will continue to be, too.
Last time I saw Jake was at AWP in Chicago, last year. Surrounded by an adoring crowd of students, he looked wise and happy, towering over them with his beautiful shining head. We nodded to each other. I figured, I’d talk with him soon. Now he is gone too soon. Jake, you will be missed.