I don’t usually use this space for this kind of sad news but I’m compelled to let you all know of a truly beautiful person whom I was fortunate enough to call mentor and friend.
I met Jason in 1996 when I started my MFA at Bennington College.
We bonded over being Jewish, New Yorkers, and poets in the decidedly un-Jewish, un-NY yet very poetic state of Vermont.
He was my teacher in every sense: supportive, encouraging, a guide, an advisor. Add to that his great sense of joy, his ability to play, his gentility, as well as an incredible work ethic and life ethic and you had everything you could hope for in a creative writing professor.
Here’s a poem from the New Yorker from this past fall, about his mother’s death and his own illness and his unflagging sense of "it’ll be better around the bend".
Living by Jason Shinder
October 1, 2007
Just when it seemed my mother couldn’t bear
one more needle, one more insane orange pill,
my sister, in silence, stood at the end
of the bed and slowly rubbed her feet,
which were scratchy with hard, yellow skin,
and dirt cramped beneath the broken nails,
which changed nothing in time except
the way my mother was lost in it for a while
as if with a kind of relief that doesn’t relieve.
And then, with her eyes closed, my mother said
the one or two words the living have for gratefulness,
which is a kind of forgetting, with a sense
of what it means to be alive long enough
to love someone. Thank you, she said. As for me,
I didn’t care how her voice suddenly seemed low
and kind, or what failures and triumphs
of the body and spirit brought her to that point—
just that it sounded like hope, stupid hope.
His most recent book of poems Among Women is revelatory and painfully revealing. Seek it out. Get to know this gentle man. And be ready to be heartbroken.
Jay-Bird, you are loved. And you are missed already dearheart.