Jake Adam York was a phenomenal teacher and person. I still think about the advice he gave us during the class he taught as the visiting writer during the spring of my first year at Kenyon. One of my favorite expressions of his was “If there was a fire which lines would you save?” I was thinking about this just the other day when one of my friends was showing me his poem. I remember we would always end up talking about music and its relationship to poetry. When someone asked about his musical taste, he responded that he admired most music, but not Justin Bieber! One poem that he particularly helped me with for my final portfolio was one about my great-great-great grandmother. He suggested describing the sun in the poem as a metaphor and helped me rearrange part of the sequence. They were small suggestions but made such a difference in the poem. I remember walking out of office hours that day feeling particularly lucky to be taking a class with him and recognizing the skill it takes to think of these suggestions on the spot.
One moment I particularly remember was when we were discussing a photographer. There was one evening in which he was driving and pulled off to the side of the road to get a picture because he knew the lighting was right at that instant. I remember Jake took that moment to reflect about the nature of writing poetry. Sometimes after you write a poem, you know it is right after only a first draft, but it’s all those other times when the lighting was wrong or the poem wasn’t working that teach you to recognize when it is falling into place.
Another clever exercise that I have done several times was from an open workshop that Jake Adam York gave on “Poem in Your Pocket Day.” He gave us receipt paper and we wrote a poem on the back of it about found objects that he had collected around Kenyon’s campus. After the workshop, he gave each of us a roll of paper and I continued using it over the summer. It took the pressure away from writing a poem to simply think, all I have to do is fill a tiny slip of paper.
Jake Adam York was caring, thoughtful, and amazingly articulate. I miss him very much and so do his other students. I will think fondly about our class together and the last meeting when we turned in our portfolios and had chili at his house. I still have the broadsides that our class made for each other and the one he gave to us. I am so grateful to have known Jake and to have witnessed his passion for poetry and his brilliant smile.