‘Life set to music’

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First Posted: 5/26/2014

When discussing the departed, Victorian novelist and poet George Eliot wrote: “[M]ay I join the choir invisible / Of those immortal dead who live again / In minds made better by their presence.” In Jake Adam York’s collection “Abide,” readers are given a magnum opus — a final collection that proves that even in death, words, like a good melody, will forever resound.

York, who previously authored poetry collections “Murder Ballads,” “A Murmuration of Starlings,” and “Persons Unknown,” died in 2012 following a stroke. While York’s collection was completed before his death, it remained unpublished until this year. The collection, which features 30 poems, demonstrates York’s love for music, rhythm, and last but certainly not least, the High Priest of Bebop — none other than the late and great Thelonious Monk.

The collection is undoubtedly solid with rich imagery, figurative language, and lyrical movement on every page. There are many choice poems throughout, including, but not limited to, “Letter written on a Record Sleeve,” “Postscript to Silence,” “Dear Brother,” and “Postscript (Already Breaking in Distant Echoes).” But “Epistrophy” is arguably one of the best pieces within the collection, and a nod to Monk (much like the title of the work). In the poem, York expresses the delicate nature of music — the record in itself — as well as the energy that flows outward once needle meets vinyl. “The sleeve sighs from the jacket, / the record from the sleeve. / The needle takes its breath. / I know what’s next — / the horns, the hymns / that spiral back to silence / after the room fills with the sound / of another room, the sound / of steel as it fills the groove.”

Much like the aforementioned poem, “Abide” offers glimpses of York as a young adolescent growing up in the South. York’s eyes are aglow and his ears are open as he patiently waits for the enchantment that is a record being removed from its sleeve and played for the first time: “The world a book / of such vibration I could see / what I needed. And I needed / this, this music, whosever it was, / this elsewhere / I pulled from its sleeve and spun” (“Letter to Be Wrapped Around a 12-Inch Disc”).

York’s collection is enjoyable for a multitude of reasons, but in particular, it is his passion for music that seems to inspire much of the work. In York’s death, every musical reference and rhythmic sequence within his poetry becomes even more significant —making his enthusiasm for life and music a map for the world to follow. Like listening to our favorite record, York’s pieces remain in our memory, flooding in when we return time after time again to his collection still there on our lips.

‘Abide’ by Jake Adam York Rating: W W W W W