Posted on Nov 18, 2012 in

A Murmuration of Starlings is the second in a projected series of volumes that elegize the martyrs of the Civil Rights Movement.I inadvertently began this series in the course of composingMurder Ballads when poems about industrial accidents in Alabama’s steel industry lead me into the veins of the state’s racial history, through which I found my way to (or, more properly, back to) the stories of the Civil Rights Movement, particularly the gruesome murders of those whose names are inscribed on the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama. After Murder Ballads was complete, I dedicated myself to extending into a series the poems for the Civil Rights Martyrs, and within about 18 months, I had a series of poems revolving around an exploration of the Emmitt Till murder trial and an exploration of the murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson. This series became A Murmuration of Starlings, now scheduled for publication by Southern Illinois University Press as part of the 2008 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry.
Poems from this book appear here:
What They Say

Jake Adam York’s new collection of poems, A Murmuration of Starlings, is a fierce, beautiful, necessary book. Fearless in their reckoning, these poems resurrect contested histories and show us that the past–with its troubled beauty, its erasures, and its violence–weighs upon us all. York’s words, like wings, rise from the ash of silence–a murmuration so that we don’t forget, so that no one disappears into history.
–Natasha Trethewey, Pulitzer-Prize winning author ofNative Guard


Through a ceremony of language and song, A Murmuration of Starlings consecrates and memorializes the souls, blood, and bones of those black men and women slaughtered on the altar of hate and violence during the Civil Rights era. With a lucid, shrewd intelligence and a commanding vision of healing and atonement, Jake Adam York makes an offering of images and music that seems the foundation of a new understanding and remembrance. These are poems that truly renew Southern history, its people, and the land. Even more, A Murmuration of Starlings is a joyful experience and fulfillment of American verse from one of its most important, young poets.
–Major Jackson, author of Leaving Saturn and Hoops


Jake Adam York waited. Then he waded out into these poems through what he knows of the past he’s inherited. His poems wait, too, til dusk then wade into shadows previously obscured by strobes of pitch black and bright white. Blank slate or overexposed. In A Murmuration of Starlings, we wade through crossed swords of flesh-toned moonlight in a forest. Each poem reaches out–as only poems can reach–and touches history on its shoulder. We may have thought we knew these stories. But, having been tapped by a homegrown kind of prodigal music–something double-edged, call it jazz–what turns to face us in these poems is turning toward us for the first time.
–Ed Pavlic, author of Labors Lost Left Unfinished andParaph of Bone and Other Kinds of Blue


A Murmuration of Starlings is a richly layered series of poems, rendering with immediacy the many sides of injustices that plague our human world. In light of the ever-present ongoing struggles of fear, misunderstanding, ignorance and conflict that fuel our human woes, these poems, although they address a specific time and place–the crucial sparks that ignited the Civil Rights Movement–, have resonance as they make a complicated history multi-dimensional, showing with compassion how ignorance and egotism borne of self-righteousness cultivate suffering. The book examines how a shift in consciousness can turn the tide of deeply held convictions. The reluctant martyrs and those who make them so by continuing to murmur their names not so much in anger and pain but insistent awareness can transform the landscape one heart and mind at a time, from fearful to joyful, propagating like starlings to “break the New World sleep, / …they’ll explode, / …they’ll plume, then pair, then spread / to double, a hundred, /  two million / in a century, maybe more, how they’ll swallow / all the country’s wandering songs / then speak their horrors from the eaves.”
–Cathy Song, author of Cloud Moving Hands and The Land of Bliss