Maxine "Maggie" Jaffe
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Poet and teacher Maxine "Maggie" Jaffe died in San Diego on March 5, 2011. She was 62 years old.

Literary influences

Born Maxine Aronoff in Brooklyn, on June 21, 1948, Jaffe began writing poetry during her teens. Her early poems were heavily influenced by Allen Ginsberg and the Beats — though as she recounted later, “For some inexplicable reason I would only write on the subway.”  

While employed by a temporary agency, Jaffe was at one point “assigned to work on Wall Street, tallying up closing stock quotations.” As she recalled, “While seated in my cubicle, I recollected a fragment from Ginsberg’s Howl: ‘who wept on typewriters.’ I left for lunch and never went back for my pay.”

This departure signaled Jaffe’s growing disaffection from mainstream American culture. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in literature from Manhattan’s New School for Social Research in 1975, she lived in Latin America, principally in Guatemala, for a number of years, where she read deeply and widely among the great post-war Latin American poets.  

Poetry and reality

In addition to the appreciation she gained for these poets’ varying styles, Jaffe also recognized that their poetry was not a mere intellectual exercise, but something that expressed the reality of their lives. This recognition, together with her empathetic response to individual and collective experiences of political and social injustice, would be central to her own work as a poet, as well as to the many classes she taught at San Diego State University, California State University San Marcos and other universities.

In 1982, Jaffe moved to San Diego and began work on her master’s degree in literature from SDSU, which she completed in 1984. Around this time, she began publishing poetry in many of the leading poetry magazines and collaborated with Deborah Small, a San Diego conceptual artist, on Against Apartheid (1984) and 1492: What Is It Like To Be Discovered? (1991).

Of words and art

Jaffe and Small’s mixed media works were exhibited at the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art and other West Coast galleries. Their exhibition, 1492, was displayed at numerous galleries in the United States and in Europe (1991-93) as part of a traveling art installation entitled Counter-Colonialismo.

Following the publication in 1989 of her first book, a collection of politically charged poems entitled The Body Politic, Jaffe’s work began to appear widely in literary magazines and anthologies.  Five more poetry volumes were published, her most recent in 2010: Flic(k)s: Poetic Interrogations of American Cinema.

Two of these books, 7th Circle (1998) and The Prisons (2001), received the San Diego Book Award for poetry. From 1998 to 2000, she served as poetry editor for The Cedar Hill Review and as associate editor of Rattle. In 2001, she earned her MFA in poetry from Vermont College at Norwich University. Nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize, Maggie was also the recipient of a California Arts Council Grant in 1998 and of a National Endowment for the Arts Grant in 2009.

A counter-cultural poet

Jaffe saw herself as a “counter cultural” poet. Taken collectively, her poetry explored, and responded to, a broad range of political, economic and cultural issues addressing among other subjects the struggles of Vietnam veterans, Native Americans and the incarcerated. Her work as both poet and teacher sought to illuminate injustice, yet always tempered its fierce moral outrage with wit and eloquence.

Describing Jaffe’s latest book, Flic(k)s, Ilya Kaminsky, co-director of the SDSU MFA creative writing program, noted, “Maggie Jaffe’s new book is a brilliant investigation into the world of cinema and cinematic movements of our own lives. Similar to us, the actors on these pages are humane, naked, beautiful and pained. We learn how Maria Callas died in Paris alone: ‘Well, her maid was with her.’”

Another poem from Flic(k)s depicts the moment when Bertolt Brecht

fled Hitler’s Deutschland
for McCarthy’s Amerika
where he bombs in the Big Apple
and goes hungry in Hollywood.
Only HUAC understood his work
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
“Americans aren’t as bad
as Nazis. At least they let you
smoke while interrogating you,”
Brecht said, smoking his fat
green Cuban.

As Kaminsky wrote, “The voices in this powerful book are frightening, and sad, and sweet, all at once: their days are ours.”

Survivors and memorial service

Jaffe is survived by her sister, Eilene Glick; her cousin, Judith Cohen, and Judith’s husband, Gerald; nephews Kenneth and Douglas Glick; and her soulmate, Dave Rhodes. Her family and Rhodes are grateful to Jaffe’s caregiver, Shareen Bacon, and ask that in lieu of flowers, memorial contributions be directed to San Diego Hospice and Institute for Palliative Medicine, 4311 Third Ave., San Diego, CA 92103.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m., Sunday, April 10, in the amphitheater located in Mission Trails Regional Park, located at 1 Father Junipero Serra Trail, San Diego, CA 92119.

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