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I first became truly aware of the poetry of Samuel Menashe from a lecture given in Jerusalem by a young scholar, Jessica Sacks, who is writing her Ph.D. on Menashe, and the Hebrew poet, Yehuda Amichai. She read a number of extremely brief poems which the members of the audience took intense interest in, and found layer after layer of meaning in. Menashe is a poet's poet if one thinks of poetry as an art of condensation, of making maximum meaning in minimum space. His poems can be a few lines though often they reach ten or so. The lines too are short and often rhyme. Each word and even each syllable count. There is at times with all the multiple meaning, with all the implication upon implication a friendly kind of humor. Though he is alone and says he now believes he should have made a family he does not seem desperate or lost. Instead there is a certain optimism , a looking up , a kind of rising movement at the end of many of his poems. Menashe writes about himself, his body, what he sees in the little space of his apartment and in his own small world. He writes occasionally about the war he was a part of, and a good many of his poems relate to the Bible, and the Jewish tradition. Clearly there is something of Proverbs in his work, and he is a kind of 'wisdom- poet'. Emily Dickinson comes to mind for first comparison. The brevity and the assonances, the aphoristic quality of her lines, the paradox and probing are qualities Menashe shares with her. But Menashe's language is far more down home, and colloquial. I find many of his lines memorable and he is the kind of poet who I think will live through many memorizing the poems. Here is the title poem of an earlier Menashe collection.Read more ›
A recent essay titled "A Deeper Consideration" by the poet, essayist and journalist, Clive James explores the virtues of concision, reflection, and thought in poetry as opposed to mere wordy surface glitter or confessional self-expression. James discusses the works of the American poet Samuel Menashe (b. 1925( to illustrate his claims of what is valuable in poetry. Here is a short poem by Menashe titled "Beachhead" that James carefully discusses.
"The tide ebbs From a helmet Wet sand embeds"
Menashe served as an infantryman during WW II at the Battle of the Bulge. Other than this poem, Menashe wrote little about his war experiences. Yet. James properly observes that "there is a whole war" in these tight three lines. James continues: "[The poet] makes his war a nation's war. The deeper consideration is that he was one among many, and, unlike too many, he lived to speak. That he speaks so concisely is a condition of his testament: consecration and concentration are the same thing. This is a world away from the expression of the self. This is bedrock."
Born to Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, Menashe described his poetical influences as the short poems of William Blake and the Hebrew Bible. He was an obscure figure in American poetry until the Poetry Foundation established a "Neglected Masters Award" for Menashe on the occasion of his 80th birthday. At the same time, the American Poets Project, part of the Library of America, published this volume of Menashe's "New and Selected Poems" in 2005, with a short essay by Menashe, quotations from various poets on his work, and an introduction by Christopher Ricks. In 2008, the American Poets Project edition was expanded to include ten additional poems. I am using the 2008 edition in this review.Read more ›
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I discovered this poet through a blog called "37 Days." So glad I looked for his book and ordered it: it's fabulous! His work is so spare yet so profound. I find it hard to describe or write about poetry (well, I used to do it when in college in the dark ages...) because it speaks for itself.
I recommend this book and this poet with no reservations. If you are a poet, you will love it. If you love poetry, you will appreciate this stunning work.
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Well I must say that it is about time this poet, Samuel Menashe is receiving some of the recognition in this country he so richly deserves. Long known in Britain and other European countries, this American poet, who has lived most of his life in New York has had, for me, a bewildering problem having his work published in the United States, and certainly he falls into the category, as awarded by the Poetry Foundation - American Poets Project, as the winner of the Neglected Masters Award.
It is quite difficult to find a pidgin hole in which to thrust Menashe's work into and I hate to try as I am quite averse to stuffing anything but pidgins into pidgin holes. His writing has been described as "spiritual," which indeed it is, but it certainly cannot be categorized as religious. His poems have been noted to be "Zen Like," which I suppose indeed they are. One of the problems of using either spiritual or Zen like is that both word mean so many different things to so many different people. Zen has been used to describe everything from golf to motorcycle repair and beyond, and spiritual is such a overused "buzz word," that I hate to apply it to a work that is...well, so different.
I suppose I will use "contemplative and profound," which seems vague enough for my purposes in this review. I suppose the reader of Menashe's work can pick Zen like, spiritual, contemplative, profound, or if all else fails, make up their own descriptive word or description. Which ever you pick, I am sure it will work for you.
I do know that the author of these poems is a word miser, or perhaps it would be better stated that he gets more mileage out of a single word than most poets get out of five or six pages. Sparse, bare to the bone, total impact, stunning and well...thoughtful....Read more ›