Today I am walking around proudly with the late Jake Adam York’s old Freitag bag. It came in the mail from Jake’s wife, Sarah Skeen, this week after Sarah read a while back that I became suddenly bagless. When she offered one of Jake’s, I worried I’d never have the guts to carry it around, fearing that it belonged more safely in storage, or in some poetry archive somewhere. But on second thought, it seems right to keep it in the world, a bag that is made completely, and sturdily, out of recycled materials. This is my small way of recycling the recycled, keeping something of Jake’s moving in the world, keeping Jake somehow moving in the world. Out of respect, one of his three books will always be tucked into the inside pocket.
Jake, who died about one year ago now at the age of 40, wrote three books that chronicled the American Civil Rights movement: “Murder Ballads” (2005), “A Murmuration of Starlings” (2008), and “Persons Unknown” (2010). Those books are still in print, hint hint. Along with Noah Eli Gordon and Joshua Marie Wilkinson, Jake was one of the very first readers of the very first poetry reading I ever organized in 2005, along with Mathias Svalina, called The Clean Part in Lincoln, NE. He was also the first poet I knew who rocked a blazer. He taught me how to wear a good blazer and eat good barbeque. He was a kind of mentor to me and my close poet-friends, a shiny shiny example of how to do things right, how to be in the world as a poet. And he was the calmest presence in every room I ever shared with him. And now, my first day with this bag, these rooms are all calmer.