Jaffin, David

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Nationality: American. Born: New York City, 14 September 1937. Education: University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (Hopwood award, 1956; Oreon E. Scott award), 1955–56; New York University (Penfield Fellow), 1956–66, B.A. 1959 (Phi Beta Kappa), M.A. 1961, Ph.D. in history 1966. Family: Married Rosemarie Kraft-Lange in 1961; two sons. Career: Graduate assistant, New York University, 1961–62; lecturer in European history, University of Maryland European Division, Munich and Augsburg, Germany, 1966–69. Studied theology at the University of Tübingen, 1971–74: vicar, Tübingen, 1974–75; minister, Magstadt, 1975–78. Since 1978 minister, Evangelische Kirche, Malmsheim. Address: 85521 Ottobrunn bei München, Prinz Alfons Str. 13, Germany.



Conformed to Stone. New York, Abelard Schuman, 1968; London, Abelard Schuman, 1970.

Emptied Spaces. London, Abelard Schuman, 1972.

Opened. Sheffield, Headlands, 1973.

Late March. Rushden, Northamptonshire, Sceptre Press, 1973.

At the Gate. New Zealand, Edge Press, 1974.

Of. Knotting, Bedfordshire, Sceptre Press, 1974.

As One. New Rochelle, New York, Elizabeth Press, 1975.

In the Glass of Winter. London, Abelard Schuman, 1975.

Changes. Godalming, Surrey, Words, 1975.

The Half of a Circle. New Rochelle, New York, Elizabeth Press, 1977.

Space Of. New Rochelle, New York, Elizabeth Press, 1978.

Preceptions. New Rochelle, New York, Elizabeth Press, 1979.

The Density for Color. Plymouth, Shearsman, 1982.

For the Finger's Want of Sound. Plymouth, Shearsman, 1982.

Selected Poems (English and Hebrew). Givatayim, Israel, Massada, 1982.

74 New Poems. Plymouth, Shearsman, 1994.

The Telling of Time: Poems 1989–1997. Lahr, Germany, Johannis, 2000.


Critical Studies: In Library Journal (New York), 15 September 1968, and 1 September 1977; Yorkshire Post (Leeds), 9 September 1972; Bristol Evening Post, 9 November 1972; by Edward Lucie-Smith, in Emptied Spaces, 1972, and In the Glass of Winter, 1975; Workshop New Poetry 18 (London), 1973; Samphire (Bromsgrove, Worcestershire), ii, 4, 1973; Poet Lore (Boston), summer 1974; "David Jaffin: An Introduction" by Tony Frazer, in Imprint 1 (Hong Kong), 1980; Sewanee Review (Tennessee), fall 1980; interview, in Shearsman 3 (Plymouth), 1981.

David Jaffin comments:

My art is one of intense compression, both of form and meaning. I seek to create a world at once visually alive, tangible/explicit and yet abstract, inward and restrained. I feel the poetic process as an intensification of consciousness. I break through/break down those words inspired in my mind (revising over and over again while I'm writing) to derive their intrinsic form and relation. Jacques Lipchitz told me that my poems were sculpted as from stone. There must never be a word too many, no decoration, ornament, rhetoric. The craft involves the unity of image, sound, sense, tone, and idea. The poem itself is a state of being, not a theme to be developed with the "poetic trimming." The poem simply is, is not about. But craftsmanship itself is only the prerequisite for the spiritual process. A "state of being" means for me a personal and new definition of reality. All meaningfu art must be this. I often describe this via tangible objects, thereby actualizing the senses. My aesthetic moves on two levels, the one being physically alive, so vivid as to be almost touched, and yet when these poems succeed, they create an absolute stillness and control. I am told my poems gain by constant rereading. I always present them at least twice at public readings.

*  *  *

David Jaffin's Conformed to Stone and Emptied Spaces have a sculptural quality; the poems are spare, chiseled down to the essentials. The title of each is appropriate. The first collection contains more people among its statuary—"Creatures of Stone," "The Idiot," "Woodcarver," "Self Portrait"—while the second moves away from human models to still lifes more remote from humans, though the artistic, and particularly the sculptural, motif remains. In the latter book Jaffin seems to be hollowing out his previous forms, trying for a sort of negative space to complement the positive space the previous book had occupied. Things are defined by their absence, as in "Door Partly Opened":

   You let the light
   Your hands closed as a
   Shadow hanging there
   You let the light
   As far as your face
     could allow.

Poems like this, with their sense of moments of time mysteriously arrested, remind one of French poets such as Valéry. The poet seems to be inviting us to study the scene closely and at the same time be denying total entrance.

Jaffin's poems are restrained, dignified, pictorial, and superficially simple, but they turn frequently on the ambiguities inherent in language. Reading them is bracing, like stepping through ice that is not as thick as one thought. The poem cited above, like a number of others, turns on such ambiguities and on the suggestion of deeper, more philosophical ambiguities beneath the ice. The observed person in this poem is the one who has opened the door and shed light on the speaker, and yet the light becomes merely a mask for the observed, himself no more than a shadow silhouette. The last two lines suggest a deliberate act of will as well as physical obstruction of the light, and they remind us of the different disguises we wear, that openness and shedding light on things, illuminating others, can be a mask too. Such subtleties make Jaffin's poetry rewarding.

—Duane Ackerson

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