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Book Review: 'Abide'


Two days before his death in 2012, poet Jake Adam York handed in the manuscript for his last book. He was 40 and had already published three collections. Now, his fourth one is out posthumously. It's called "Abide." Poet Tess Taylor has our review.

TESS TAYLOR: Jake Adam York was a big, bald white man from a working class family who wrote forcefully about memory and mis-memory in Southern life. His poems were equal cuts beauty and sorrow. What made York's three previous books so special was their mission to memorialize and retrace the traumas and violences of the civil rights movement, both in the poet's native Alabama and beyond. This project might have fallen flat in the wrong hands but York carried it off with heart-opening grace. Now, York's just-published posthumous work, "Abide," delivered to his publisher just two days before he suffered a sudden stroke, deepens and expands this work as well as adding richness to it. It's a stunner, either as a standalone or as a maturing of what York had already set out to do. The work is heady - again, poems about lynch mobs, sites of racial violence, but also poems about music and childhood, about the Thelonious Monk adaptation of the Scottish hymn "Abide with Me," about record grooves and tape decks, and about the place where - York writes - you become so attuned, you almost hear the light. In this book, music - on records, tapes, in spun beats - becomes a light-filled emissary, a place where which we bridge time, hold memories, transcend divides, and draw closer to one another. Here's York recounting his teenage years listening to Sun Ra and Afrika Bambaattaa. He writes: Dialing up the beat where we'd catch each other's bob, a byword we needed to call across, the lines the country drew around us. York goes on: We had so much behind us, the history we were told we shouldn't name, stir up, remember, so much silence we needed to break. York made a life's work of leaning into that charged silence. Then he made music out of what he leaned against. To say we'll miss the rest of his career is a vast understatement. At least we have this new book. "Abide" is certain to live on.

SIEGEL: Jake Adam York's collection of poems is called "Abide." It's published posthumously. And it also won him a posthumous designation from the poet laureate as a Witter Bynner Fellow.

Our reviewer Tess Taylor's latest collection of poems is called "The Forage House." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tess Taylor