"I've always found that writing about places is kind of the primal poetry," says Jake Adam York. "I'm a big wanderer. For me, pathways are the most captivating things."
York knows a thing or two about pathways. The route of his own life has taken him across the map, from rural Alabama (a period detailed in his upcoming book of poetry, Murder Ballads) to the halls of the University of Colorado at Denver, where he's an assistant professor of creative writing. This Saturday, April 23, York will consummate his cartographic proclivity by navigating "A Map of Denver." The collaboration, which is sponsored by the non-profit arts organization PlatteForum, involves York and dozens of area students and writers. The two-part project? To write verse about local sites and haunts and compile them into one big installation piece -- then meander around Denver for a day, reciting the poems at a handful of the landmarks that inspired them.
"It all has to do with my relationship with Denver," York explains. "I've only lived here for five years, so I did a lot of learning how to get around, finding out where different things are in the city. I'm really fascinated by the types of language people have for different neighborhoods, the different landmarks they mention when giving you directions."
Another spark came from last summer's centennial Bloomsday celebration, a worldwide event in which devotees of James Joyce's Ulysses superimposed Leopold Bloom's path through Dublin over their own cities, wandering through town and stopping for occasional recitations of the novel.
But such "progressive readings" weren't the only model for the project. "Fifteen years ago, Dana Gioia wrote an article called ŒCan Poetry Matter?' in which he said that poetry has lost its place in our culture," York says. "We have to put it back at the center of cultural life. So for the past few years, I've been thinking about events that would push poetry out into the public."
York's involvement with PlatteForum has helped him accomplish such exposure. Under the title of Creative Resident, he runs a poetry lab for kids, some of whom will be put on the Map on Saturday alongside students from UCD, North High School, P.S.1 and the Spot. The one-day mini-tour of Denver will kick off at 10 a.m. at Book Buffs bookstore, 1519 South Pearl Street, before making its way that evening to PlatteForum's studio and gallery space at 1610 Little Raven Street.
"We'll be winding through central Denver, hitting a lot of the literary landmarks," York details. "Eugene Fields's house, up to City Park to the statue of Robert Burns, then by the Thomas Hornsby Ferril house on Downing Street." Back at PlatteForum, more readings by participants are scheduled, as well as the official opening reception for the text collage that York has assembled from the entries. "In a sense, I'll be publishing them by hanging the poems on the wall so that they interconnect," he says. "Each of the poems is a part of the map, a snapshot of a piece of Denver. It's an open-ended project. I hope that people will get interested in it, and maybe we can do it again next year. I'd like it to become sort of an open-ended anthology, and to continue expanding."
And although the festivities, scheduled to coincide with National Poetry Month, focus on student involvement, they're not restricted to youngsters; York stresses that the entire point of the project is to engage everyone in the process and appreciation of poetry. "All are invited to participate," he says. "If someone wants to write something and come out to read it or even just join us to walk the walk, they're certainly welcome. This is really about Denver people saying what they want to say about the city they know."
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