Pilot Light
A Journal of 21st Century Poetics and Criticism
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[Double] Negative[s]
(Continued from Page 2)

At the end of Jake’s most recent book of poems, Persons Unknown, he leaves the reader with a highly specific note of something like instruction. He informs his reader that the poems in this volume are “dedicated to the memories of the martyrs of the Civil Rights Movement,” explaining:

In the broadening conversation about the Civil Rights Movement, racial violence, hate crimes, and unsolved murders, more than eighty additional martyrs have been identified.

As that conversation expands, so does this project.

I have endeavored to link this body of work to the previous volume A Murmuration of Starlings. The reader is invited to take this book, to split it between the first and second sections, and to insert the first section of Persons Unknown into the text of A Murmuration of Starlings before its central poem, “Tuck”; and to insert the second section of Persons Unknown into the text of A Murmuration of Starlings after the poem, “Tuck” but before “For Reverend James Reeb.” (Persons Unknown 99)

I’m not trying to write about Jake’s poems. I’m trying to write about Jake’s conception of Jake’s poems. In this note, found in the back of his book, Jake is, as always, extremely careful with his language. He does not invite the reader to simply imagine these two books as part of a whole. Instead, the reader is invited “to take this book, to split it.” A physical rupture. A suggestion of breakage that becomes more physical than conceptual when Jake continues, “and to insert the first section of Persons Unknown into the text of A Murmuration of Starlings.” Splitting and inserting imply a kind of physical rearrangement of these two codices that violates their physical containers, their binding.

I knew Jake to be a lover of analog, of the physical object, of shooting photographs on film, of hand-binding chapbooks himself, no staples, no careless crafting. Did Jake actually intend for his readers to take a penknife to his work, to extract portions of one book, “split” it open, widen the binding of another, “insert” the poems inside? Likely he did not. But his gesture toward this move in the language of his endnote says more about Jake’s work than it might seem upon first read, and it ameliorates the potential problem inherent in me confusing two of his ekphrastic poems about photography and atrocity.

Jake arranged his work carefully, in order, with reason, always. But part of that ordering involved leaving space for re-ordering. Part of his work was about accessing the past from different angles, from unexpected places, inserting himself into history in order to write in the forgotten parts, the parts that have been erased, violated, and disappeared. So to allow this space to exist in his work—this space for rewriting, for restructuring, reorganizing—was to further the project he pursued thematically, linguistically, and formally in the poems themselves. To leave space for a different order to things, to un-solidify order, to un-solidify history, to allow uncertainty to exist as a positive force in writing and remembering.


Works Cited

York, Jake Adam. Murder Ballads. Denver: Elixir Press, 2005.

York, Jake Adam. Persons Unknown. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2008.