blackbirdonline journalSpring 2013 Vol. 12 No. 1
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No Comparable Warmth

I knew Jake Adam York as a teacher of unending, widest-ranging metaphors; an editor of extraordinary vision and commitment; a patient and loyal mentor. I saved Jake’s number in my phone almost three years ago as Der Chef, German for “the boss.” I always liked how it sounds like chief. The chief of many things, Jake commanded that kind of respect just by the way he stood in a room. I remember him that way—a generous leader whose door was always propped open just enough to say, “I’m working, but I’m here.” I appreciated this invitation as a student of Jake’s in the creative writing program at University of Colorado–Denver and while serving as managing editor at Copper Nickel. Mentor, professor, boss. Jake was that and more for me and so many others.

While writing this essay, I began to thumb through The Hand of the Poet, edited by Rodney Phillips. The book was given to me several months before I noticed it on Jake’s bookshelf one day. This is always a very validating experience—to know you own the same books as your mentors. I always remember this quote from the introductory essay: “Type has no comparable warmth.” I have only two extant documents with Jake’s handwriting: my copies of Persons Unknown and Distant Relations, the chapbook he must have printed at home or in his office that he distributed at the final meeting of our Advanced Poetry Workshop in December 2010.

I keep the chapbook close to me on my desk. I love not only the poetry, but also the details of this book, now a kind of artifact, that remind me of Jake and why he did things the way he did. When I open the yellow cardstock cover, bleeding through the white paper from the other side of the title page I find his handwriting. I can’t help but think of a “conversation heard through a wall,” which he writes in “Postscript (Written on a J-Card),” the last poem in the chapbook. I remember he brought this poem to a class meeting. Sometimes he’d show us what he was working on. This seemingly peerless man wanted us to see that what we were learning was real, and that he was going through the same things that we were.

Jake’s handwriting surrounded me at one time: on Post-its, to-do lists, instructions, proofs. In daily business, I encountered it in the depths of file drawers or tucked in the pages of typography books, on bits of paper stuffed in the cash box. Copper Nickel was a team effort, but Jake, like his handwriting in the office, suffused every bit of it from the content to the HTML code for the website.

His handwriting exuded an energy that can only be described as both curated and innate: effortless, a little hard to read, and always in black. Maybe a little like Jake himself, though I saw him in quite a few colored shirts; Jake’s style—at least what I saw of it—was like his poetry: soulful and cogent.

For Advanced Poetry Workshop, Jake insisted we hand-sew the bindings of our chapbooks. He provided the tools and a guidebook. I think we were all delighted when he pulled out his own and sat with us at Euclid Hall, the “final-workshop bar” across from campus, and set to punching holes in the spines. At the time I thought it was a quirky, wonderful way to finish our projects and wasn’t surprised since I knew Jake to be the kind of person who appreciated these little details. Now, with my copy of his chapbook in my hands, I truly understand:

four punctures in the layers of paper by the awl, soft green yarn pulled taut, precise knot found between the center pages.

This is not the anonymity of a staple; this is something like handwriting. Evidence of the hand moving, articulating. Sewing a binding isn’t that hard, but it can be an awkward thing to fumble with the unbound paper, sewing through the spine and trying not to pull the yarn so tight it cuts through the holes and down the spine, but tight enough the book feels like something solid and real, like a real book. It is something human. Evidence that a person—Jake—held the little book open and carefully laced it together, tied the knot once, then twice, tightened it, then snipped the excess yarn, wrote out the signature and limited edition marking, 2/9, to remind us how special each one was.

The night Jake died, I opened a book of his and read, or tried to because it is very hard to read while crying. I think mostly I just wanted to spend some time with him again in the only way that would from then on be possible. Since that night, I’ve been trying to collect from the various corners of my house everything of Jake I can find. This has been a troubling venture; I can’t find any copies of my poems with his comments or the pen he gave me the last time I saw him. (“Never use a ballpoint again, OK?”) He always told me his students were his students for life. It was incredibly comforting to have a guy like Jake on your side because people respected him. I never hesitated to work hard for Jake, to stay late in the Copper Nickel office, sometimes until 11:00 p.m. Though people usually encountered his intelligence first, Jake embodied heart and soul, so he knew when you put everything into a project.

Recently, a friend told me she dreamt I was searching for the longest adjective in the English language. This felt like a challenge, impossible and exciting like the challenges Jake was known to deliver. In this essay, I wanted to write, “Jake was a great man,” but ironically, the word great seemed too short and plain for such a long list of qualities and accomplishments, for the magnitude of his impact. 149 synonyms are listed for the word great. After reading through all of them and realizing each one—really, every single one—fit Jake, reflected a different nuance of Jake’s greatness, great is so much bigger than I first thought. With all those other words tucked inside, it might even be the longest adjective. I think this is the kind of answer Jake would have appreciated. I want to think it’s a lesson he might have orchestrated from somewhere out there in the universe.

Maybe we don’t really need material objects to remember those who have passed, but when I hold this chapbook in my hands, I’m reminded of Jake’s generosity, his dedication, and his unrivaled ability to leave you with a lesson always. With someone like Jake, you begin to wonder if he was real, for no one could have been in so many places or have worn so many hats at once. What strikes me about his signature in my copy of Distant Relations is how it is not really his signature. Unlike the looping and stylized script he used to sign my copy of Persons Unknown or Copper Nickel cash deposits, it is a very legible image of all three of his names that sprawls under the typed publication info: PRIVATED, DECEMBER 2010. Since his name does not appear elsewhere in type or otherwise, I have to think that those three words constitute more of a labeling than a signature, more of a claiming, a reminder, as if there were any doubt, who wrote the poems, who sewed the binding, and who carefully, precisely, definitively tied the knot—the signature is an elegant declaration, as if to say, “Jake Adam York was here.” It’s true; Jake Adam York was here, and for that, my gratitude is endless.  end

The poem mentioned here, “Postscript (Written on a J-Card),” appeared later in the Spring 2011 issue of The Southern Review.

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