The poet wrote about the horrors of the Vietnam War before moving from the United States to Canada

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Ellen Jaffe immigrated to Canada after stints in California and London, England, eventually taking her place as Ontario’s outstanding poet and psychotherapist.Wendy Schneider

Ellen Jaffe’s powerful anti-war poem Vietnam, August 11, 1966, a meditation on the semantics of victory and tragedy in war, concludes with the lines: “ask a leg if it’s civilian / an arm if it’s the enemy / an eye if it’s ours “.

She was inspired to write it when she was an undergraduate student and a campus newspaper editor at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Mass. A newscast had made her think not just about horror, but also about the language of war and politics, and the effects it had.

The poem was published in Minority of One magazine in 1966 and appeared more recently in Crossing Lines: Poets who came to Canada at the time of the Vietnam War, a 2008 anthology.

Ms. Jaffe immigrated to Canada after stints in California and London, England, eventually taking her place as an outstanding Ontario poet and psychotherapist. She combined her two passions in her most popular book, Write your way: Create a personal journal, as well as publishing his poetry widely. She died on March 16, a day after her 77th birthday.

“The words Ellen wrote opposing the war in Vietnam are just as relevant today, speaking of the war against Ukraine.”

— Poet Heidi Greco

Ellen Sue Jaffe was born in New York on March 15, 1945, and grew up in a liberal Jewish family, with parents she identified politically as “Adlai Stevenson Democrats.”

His father was a cardiologist who testified before Senator Joe McCarthy, when other doctors would not, that a certain patient was too ill to be called before the House Un-American Activities Committee.

“His whole family had strong moral beliefs,” recalls Phyllis Knight, a former classmate.

Ms Jaffe came to college knowing she wanted to write, but not yet seeing herself as a writer, she told Wellesley Magazine’s Bibliofiles column. Politics seemed more important at the time. “As editor of the Wellesley News,” she said, “I promoted … awareness with articles on American politics, the Vietnam War and related topics. This writing has sharpened my style and increased my knowledge. I’ve also heard from writers like Robert Frost, WH Auden and Eudora Welty”

After graduating, Ms. Jaffe earned a master’s degree in education from New York University before moving to California for several years. There she helped with anti-draft counseling in the evenings after working all day in clinics and schools – until she was sexually assaulted at a school. “In 1971, I had it with the United States,” she told this reporter in a 2014 interview.

“Wellesley had a travel grant and I came up with a project that took me to England,” she said. In London, she studied with renowned child psychologist DW Winnicott from 1972 to 1979. She also met and married Allan Bitz, a Canadian student at the London School of Economics – where the couple decided to move after graduating. respective. At that time, Ellen was pregnant and she said, “I wanted my son to be born in Canada.”

During Ms. Jaffe’s final days, the Ontario Poetry Society announced that it would create a biannual award in her honor, the Ellen S. Jaffe Humanist Award for Poetry, with $500 for first prize and five runners-up receiving $100. each.Courtesy of the family

They settled in Woodstock, Ontario, her husband’s hometown. After the birth of their son, Joe Bitz, in 1980, Ms. Jaffe worked part-time as a psychotherapist and won provincial grants to conduct writing workshops in local schools. She taught the same workshops on the Six Nations and Moose Factory reservations, where, Ms. Jaffe said, she felt honored to work and learn.

For 20 years, from the early 1980s to 2000, she lived in Woodstock. She became a Canadian citizen in 1993 and published poems in several anthologies as well as three collections of her own poetry in the 1990s. She lived the next 20 years in Hamilton, where she published seven more books, from 2001 to 2019 , winning three awards from the Hamilton Arts Council (now Arts Hamilton).

During Mrs. Jaffe’s last days, the Ontario Poetry Society announced that it will create a biannual award in her honor, the Ellen S. Jaffe Humanist Award for Poetry, with $500 for first prize and five finalists receiving $100 each.

Ms Jaffe shared her birthday on March 15 with the late US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, notes poet Heidi Greco. “I think of them together now,” she wrote, “two short women united by their Jewishness, their intelligence and their compassion.

“The words Ellen wrote opposing the war in Vietnam are just as relevant today, speaking of the war against Ukraine.”

Ms Greco is one of many other poets Ms Jaffe met who were eager to read her poems and share theirs with her, through organizations such as the League of Poets, Writers’ Union of Canada, Voices (Israel Group of Poets in English) and CANSCAIP, for authors of children’s books. And every poem Mrs. Jaffe, every class or workshop she taught, came with a gentle touch of psychotherapy.

“For me,” Ms Jaffe told Wellesley Magazine, “part of a writer’s job is to experience uncertainties and difficulties – personal and worldwide – and then find words and images to write them with empathy and precision.”

On her website’s psychotherapy page, Ms Jaffe told of a four-year-old boy who couldn’t talk about the “monsters” in his life until the monsters were gone.

“That’s the essence of therapy,” she writes. “We can’t undo the monsters and traumas of the past or present, but we can make them bearable to think about and talk about, help you find better ways to overcome them, and take their power away from your mind and your soul. heart.”

Ms Jaffe treated her latest illness similarly, sharing her hopes and worries on a public blog as she worked her way through treatments for rapidly metastasizing tumors on her liver and elsewhere. On February 10, she wrote that her heart had already chosen against more chemotherapy.

“I want to live in peace,” she wrote, “to spend time with the people I love, to be in nature (especially in the spring and summer), and to use palliative care to help manage symptoms. like tiredness.

Her son, Joe, said he thought she would be remembered “as someone who was not only passionate and successful in her own writing, but took pure joy in helping others explore and express their own creativity”.

He continued his hope that posterity will recognize her as someone who “embraced her writing and those around her with such depth of love that a five-foot-tall woman felt like an absolute giant”.

Mrs. Jaffe is survived by her partner, Roger Gilbert; his son, Mr. Bitz; three stepchildren, Vance Gilbert, Teri Gilbert, Simon Gilbert-Johnson; two grandchildren and three step-grandchildren.

Until the end, Mrs. Jaffe lived by a belief she expressed to Wellesley, in a Chapel Talk she gave in 1968: “Art can never be just a technique, but must somehow embody and translate a sense of life, of what it means to be alive.”


Vietnam, August 11, 1966
by Ellen S. Jaffe

11 people die, 187 are injured

It’s a tragedy

because

they are civilians

11 people die, 187 are injured

it’s a victory

because

they are the enemy

11 people die, 187 are injured

it’s an atrocity

because

they are ours

skin labels

taste the darkness below

ask a leg if it’s civil

an arm if it’s the enemy

an eye if it’s ours


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