Memories of the Phonograph

"Don't judge a book by its cover"...unless it has a phonograph on it


By Doug Boilesen 2019

One of my favorite things to do is to wander through a library and see what catches my eye. Our local library has shelves where the staff pick out books, usually by some theme or current event, and display them so that you see their covers.

Recently on a shelf that was celebrating Colorado writers was a book of poetry by Jake Adam York titled Abide.

It immediately caught my attention.


A bird is positioned on a turntable with its beak pointing into the grooves of a record to function as a stylus.

In the world of art the 'beak' and other objects have previously been creatively depicted as ways for sound waves to be seemingly played, e.g., Fred Flintstone and Woody Woodpecker used bird beaks for their record players as does EMEK in his 2003 poster "Phono Bird"; Hot Stuff "The Little Devil" used his 'devil tail' for a stylus, etc.

In the history of sound recording there is also a connection. When Leon Scott patented his phonautograph in 1857 (an invention which he would use for the visual study of sound waves and not the actual reproduction of the voice) Scott used a "recording bristle from a pig or bird" to scratch "the surface of the blackened paper to make a visual tracing of the voice." This was the beginning of the recording of sound. (1)

But the meaningful thing about this particular discovery for me was inside the cover. On those pages I found poems that made me want to know more about who York was and what he was writing about. The Abide poems led me to investigate his 'project' which was the body of his work. Inspired by the Civil Rights Memorial he called his project Inspirations for Air. (2)

Jake Adam York is not a poet that I had heard of and his untimely death in 2012 at the age of forty is clearly the loss of an important voice in our world.

David Wojahn said this of York:

"Jake Adam York was the finest elegist of this generation."

Natasha Trethewey, United States Poet Laureate, wrote the following:

In his body of work, poems of sheer beauty, grace, precision of image, and technical skill, we find a profound intervention into our ongoing conversations about race and social justice, a bold and necessary challenge to our historical amnesia. Jake Adam York is one of our most indispensable American poets, and the presence of his work in the world -- his vision, his enduring spirit -- is for me, and I think for us all, a guiding light."

I have added three of York's works to the PhonoLiterature section of Phonographia because of their connections with records and phonographs.

However, all of the poems found in the posthumous collection "Abide" and his 'Project" should be read and connections with the phonograph are trivial compared to the subject matter and vision of York's poetry.

But it does make me smile when I remember that my discovery of Jake Adam York was because of phonographia and because I judged a book by its cover.


pour des dents d'un blanc éclatant et saines - Cover illustration courtesy of Jeroen Diepenmaat ©2005










"Phono Bird" Courtesy of EMEK, 2009, Silk screen, 21" x 31"






Coachella "Flower"

Concert poster for Coachella, Empire Polo Field, April 27-29, 2007 Courtesy of







Artist: Elena Maria Ospina Mejia

Elena Maria Ospina Mejia is a painter, illustrator and cartoonist from Columbia. Image courtesy of the European Cartoon gallery website.






Print by Pam Wishbow - Fox's tail is the stylus for the record






Quotes and poetry excerpts courtesy of Crab Orchard Review and Southern Illinois University Press and the estate of Jake Adam York ©2014