It’s been truly observed that a large collection of small poems can give one the sensation of being nibbled to death by minnows. But the poems of Samuel Menashe break this rule. They not only latch onto one another to suggest larger structures, but also each poem is a rich microcosm unto itself. The Menashean magic ordains that the more closely you examine these small poems, the more you find tucked into each of them. Menashe's prevailing tone of calm, urbane alertness leaves plenty of space for puckishness and puns, elegy and war, joy and grief, and of our shared human sense, universal but hard to put into words, of navigating through the world in a body. I forbear to quote; open this book at random and see where it takes you.
It is a special pleasure to welcome this new collected edition of Samuel Menashe’s work. Though Menashe’s poetry is by no means unknown it has not received the recognition due it. This comprehensive gathering reveals once and for all the depth and delight of his minimalist art. Menashe is the master of the miniature apercu and portrait. His poems are distilled, scrupulous, often playful, both subtle and exact, with surprising rhymes and range of reference. Some poems are minute meditations, others testimony of witness. What is most impressive is the humanity, the keen relish for words, paradox, and minutiae of life itself, in this cornucopia of sharply etched epigrams and songs.
Samuel Menashe’s poems are as unique as the man himself. A flaneur of bohemian Manhattan (when such a place existed), he recited his poems to friends and acquaintances at the drop of a hat in an airy, lilting baritone. Lying on a rock in Central Park, he heard the “a creak of oarlocks,” and in his cold-water flat on Thompson Street he bemoaned the kitchen “Where I do not eat / Where the bathtub stands / Upon cat feet—.” His New York was shot through with melancholy and a spiritual longing, at once Biblical and embodied. He is an essential American poet.