Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Neglected Important Poets, No. 4: Samuel Menashe

Samuel Menashe

Samuel Menashe was born in 1925 and he earned acclaim as the creator of numerous compact and precise poems. His first American volume, No Jerusalem But This, was praised by Stephen Spender for "language intense and clear as diamonds." Spender declared that Menashe "can compress an attitude to life that has an immense history into three lines."

To Open, Menashe's 1974 collection, impressed Christian Science Monitor critic Victor Howes with its concentrated works. "The art of Samuel Menashe is a jeweler's art," Howes claimed. He noted that Menashe's "inner rhymes, his assonances, his occasional plays upon words make even the simplest-seeming statement a construct to read again with heightened attention."

Although Menashe published only a few volumes, he was nonetheless prized by critics such as Donald Davie and Hugh Kenner as a unique and worthwhile poet. In National Review Kenner praised Menashe's “taut energies,” and in an Inquiry review of Davie's The Poet in the Imaginary Museum, Kenner focused almost entirely on Davie's elucidation of Menashe's art. In The Poetry of Samuel Menashe, Davie linked Menashe to 
William Blake and wrote, “If we continue to ignore Menashe, or allow him only the abstracted nod that we give to an unclassifiable oddity, we are in effect saying that he doesn't deserve to profit by the promise that Blake made.”

Menashe was the winner of the first Neglected Masters Award, given by the Poetry Foundation. His New and Selected Poems (2005) was published in conjunction with that honor by the Library of America, edited by Christopher Ricks. Menashe lived in New York City for many decades until his death in 2011


Poems by Samuel Menashe

Adam Means Earth

I am the man
Whose name is mud
But what’s in a name
To shame the one who knows
Mud does not stain
Clay he’s made of
Dust Adam became—
The dust he was—
Was he his name

Reeds Rise From Water

rippling under my eyes
Bulrushes tuft the shore

At every instance I expect
what is hidden everywhere

        For David Curzon

Open your mouth
To feed that flesh
Your teeth have bled
Tongue us out
Bone by bone
Do not allow
Man to be fed
By bread alone 

‘And he afflicted the and suffered thee to hunger and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not neither did thy fathers know, that He might make thee know that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord does man life.’ –Deuteronomy VIII:3

Stone Would Be Water

Stone would be water
But it cannot undo
Its own hardness
Rocks might run
Wild as torrents
Plunged upon the sky
By cliffs none climb

Who makes fountains
Spring from flint
Who dares tell
One thirsting
There’s a well


Eyes open to praise
The play of light
Upon the ceiling—
While still abed raise
The roof this morning
Rejoice as you please
Your Maker who made
This day while you slept,
Who gives grace and ease,
Whose promise is kept.

‘Let them sing for joy upon their beds.’ –Psalm 149

Old As The Hill
The lilt of a slope
Under the city
Flow of the land
With streets in tow
Where houses stand

Row upon row

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