I found out earlier today that poet and friend Jake York died suddenly on Sunday at the age of 40. As are many in the literary community, I am stunned and devastated. The language of sympathy is burdened with overuse and abstraction and inexactitude. I struggle to offer the right words, any words, to convey the burning in my heart. So I fall back on that helpless language for now: To his family and friends, I am so very sorry for your loss. I wish you comfort in this terrible time of sorrow.
I first met Jake in 2004 at Sewanee, where we were both scholars. After disembarking from the airport bus from Nashville, a clump of us stood around on the sidewalk, nervous and awkward and uncertain. Jake, kind soul, introduced himself. He and another friend and I ended up at Stirling’s, the little coffeehouse on campus, sharing ice-breaking jokes and jittery laughter. One of us spilled our coffee, and we thus renamed the joint “Spillings” for the rest of the time. Few people have made me laugh as much as Jake did those two weeks, and I have always remembered that joy, even over the years and distance.
Over the years, I have seen Jake mostly at conferences (and on Facebook, until I left it 6 months ago). I was always so thrilled to hear of his many literary successes. Such talent and focus and dedication: three tremendous books, and among awards, he’d just won a 2013 NEA.
I last saw him almost a year ago at MLA in Seattle, where I was so happy to be able to have him join our group for drinks and dinner. He wore the most charming plaid tie, and we talked of our lovely spouses, our projects, and other mundane details I’m sure. We hoisted our pints. He was on schedule to come to Alabama for the BACHE reading series in February, and I was so looking forward to getting one of those once-a-year Jake chats. I thought — oh, how I was certain — that we had so many more years ahead.
Rest in peace, dear Jake. How I will miss you. How much we will all miss you.
Jake’s books and work are widely available: http://jakeadamyork.com/about/
Some lovely tributes here: http://therumpus.net/2012/12/poetry-wire-remembering-jake-adam-york-1972-2012/
Article in the Denver Post: http://www.denverpost.com/breakingnews/ci_22216151/jake-adam-york-poet-who-chronicled-civil-rights