Tuesday, December 16, 2008



Eye-sensing by David Jaffin
(Ahadada, Tokyo & Toronto, 2008)

A Must See

As the title of David Jaffin’s new book suggests, Eye-sensing (Ahadada, 2008) is largely composed of poems for the eye, rather than the ear. They are poems for the page, not the podium, and thrive on the enjambment of lines that consistently sever the “sens” from the “ing” and leave me, in many cases, like a kid with a stack of ABC blocks. This makes the poems difficult to read, especially with a word like “in-toned,” which Jaffin breaks into “in-ton” and “ed.” I feel I’m left to struggle like a child with the language. Is the “o” pronounced long as in “tone” or short as in “ton”? And, does “ed” take an Edwardian stress or not?

The repetitiveness of the form throughout the book mimics, also, the child in his or her experiments to learn the world, building again with the same blocks each day, going through the motions over and over, like the boy in “Eye-sensing”, the title poem:
Small boy

truck roll

ing his
hands along

ing. (8)

When I read this, I see my own son on the floor, eye-level with his toy truck, crawling along, moving the truck forward, watching the wheels turn. And the enjambment, which mistakes noun for verb and verb for noun, suggests the uneven rhythm yet continuous motion of the roll as my eyes scan down the page to make sense of the poem for the mind.

Not all of Jaffin’s poems in this collection are imagistic. Poems like “Hind sight’” are philosophical meanderings of the mind’s eye:
                  Hind sight’
s why you

can’t really
be looking

back because
the there of

now’s alway
s the persist

ently reali
zed. (54)

As in life, at least in mine, it is very hard to get a grasp in Eye-sensing. There is no hind sight, only a blind stumbling forward and a run-on realization of the next.

At first glance, Jaffin’s poetry appears an abstraction, but the physicality of the line is very concrete in its breaking of sense. He plays with my need for the whole, not only for the end-stopped line, but for complete words, which he divides into “word” and “s.” However, while his poetry is playful, it’s not mean and does not mean in the linguistically daring sense. This is not the kid who’ll blacken the eye of the playground bully. Rather, there is a cool almost emotionless clarity, even when he examines the decapitated head of Caravaggio’s Goliath in the hands of his namesake, the youth David:

under the
surety of

David’s up
lifting faith

Cut his own
head off with

the Goliath
of his increase

ingly bloody
designs. (74)

It is unclear whether Jaffin is examining his own inner Goliath as Caravaggio did in painting himself into the Biblical story, but he breaks the surface and gets to the heart of matter. In Eye-sensing, I feel he removes the beam in his own eye while helping me find the log in my own. Jaffin challenges my sense of the world and self. He doesn’t necessarily show me anything new, but he challenges me to see.


Adam Halbur is a poet from Wisconsin now living and teaching English in Japan. His work has appeared in The Fourth River, Fauquier Poetry Journal, and Dunes Review, as well as in the anthology Never Before: Poems about First Experiences (Four Way Books 2005). Adam holds an MFA in creative writing from Warren Wilson College, Asheville, NC.

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