In Memoriam: Poet Jason Shinder

I would like to mention something about the passing of Jason Shinder. Jason recently passed on after a long battle with cancer. His contribution to the art of writing and the arts in general was vast, purposeful, and I believe will prove lasting, whether it is through his own books, his teaching, or his development of the YMCA National Writer’s Voice. I did not know Jason well, but in two or three brief meetings he made me feel as if I had known him a good long time. In his indirect way he taught me things about writing and living deliberately. I have continued to learn from him as I read his poems and his anthologies created as guides for young writers and lovers of the art of poetry.

His life was dedicated to the arts. My first experience with Jason was watching him open up a night of dancing at an MFA residency with utterly compelling moves. This display of quiet excellence echoed itself throughout my time as a student at Bennington. I never had Jason as a teacher, but I was able to witness how, in his quiet way Jason continually worked for art as an artist and teacher. He carried his student’s poems everywhere and worked them over obsessively. I watched him stop in mid-conversation in the student cafe and pull out a student packet, mark it with some notes, stuff it back in his bag and continue his conversation.

He read a series of poems one evening that chronicled his mother’s battle with a terminal illness. The poems were raw, tender, and moving. My final direct interaction with Jason was at a summer residency when he randomly sat down next to me during dinner. I asked him how he was doing. He casually remarked that things were going well, and that he was just trying to write as well as he could. This small bit of conversation became a mantra of teaching advice for me over the next few years. There is so much out there. There is so much to do. We can write poems to make people laugh, chronicle illness, compete with Dante, but no matter what, at the core, we strive to just write as well as we can.

He will be missed.