University of Mississippi

Jake Adam York

Jake Adam York died suddenly in 2012 and he is missed by the poetry community and his many many friends and family members.  Jake was a great SPiR and friend to our program.

Jake was the author of Murder Ballads (2005), selected by Jane Satterfield for the Fifth Annual Elixir Press Awards Judge’s Prize, and A Murmuration of Starlings, selected by Cathy Song for the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry (2008). His poems had appeared in Shenandoah, Oxford American, Greensboro Review, Gulf Coast, New Orleans Review, Quarterly West, Diagram, Octopus, Southern Review, Poetry Daily, and other journals as well as in the anthologies Visiting Walt (Iowa University Press, 2003) and Digerati (Three Candles, 2006). Originally from northeast Alabama, York was an associate professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Colorado Denver, where he directed an undergraduate Creative Writing program and produced Copper Nickel with his students.

A fifth-generation Alabamian, York was raised in and around Gadsden, Alabama, the son of a steel-worker and a history teacher. In 1994, he took at BA in English from Auburn University. He continued on to Cornell University, where he earned an MA in English (1997), an MFA in Creative Writing (1997), and a PhD in English (2000) with emphases in American Poetry, history of poetry, and Creative Writing.

York continued to extend the sequence of elegies for Civil Rights martyrs begun in Murder Ballads and A Murmuration of Starlings; he was currently at work on a third in this series of books. Here is a sample

from COLLECT

…in a way, all of us are responsible for Bo’s death, because we’ve let people like those killers have their way, and decent people have just sat by.
— Mamie Till, 1956

Morning wraps the stars and the dark
that will come again

and so is a promise,
an envelope

in which some dark may be folded

like a list of names,

so first light on the Tallahatchie
is a prayer that light

may be shoaled
by some arm or shoulder

as a pane of light will smoke

until the swollen face emerges

and morning on a magazine’s spread
burns into the retinas

the letters of a prayer for the river
and the pine box and the boxcar

on which some light no one will ever remember

has already laid its blessing

and a prayer for Mamie Till
for looking when they told her not to,

At the time of his death, Jake had just received an NEA grant.  Please find the full version of “Collect” and more on Jake Adam York (including links to his blog and videos of his readings) at the respective SPiR pages.

Photo credit: Sarah Skeen