Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Samuel Menashe: New & Selected Poems

New and Selected Poems, Samuel Menashe, ed. Christopher Ricks (Library of America, 2005)


Samuel Menashe's preface to this volume in the Library of America's "Poets Project," winner of the Poetry Foundation's "Neglected Masters Award," underscores what I've suspected for a long while: that SM's been getting a hell of a lot of mileage out of his own "neglected" status – this despite the fact that he's been well-published in England, & that Talisman House brought out a "new & selected" volume almost as compendious as this one no further back than 2000. Stop whining, I think: Blake had it a lot worse.

But Menashe's undeniably got an idiom all his own, a mode that I find more impressive in long stretches than in brief batches (pace Christopher Ricks's overclever introduction, which wants to show us that every Menashe lyric holds "eternity in a grain of sand"). Menashe's little poems aren't quite epigrams, nor do they have the gloomy gravitas of William Bronk's little poems; they certainly aren't haiku-like, nor do they have the slipshod, tossed-off likableness of many of Cid Corman's poemlets. They're uniformly clever, & sometimes – rather often – quite moving. Still, for micro-machines made out of words, give me

any day.
NB: My own copy of The Niche Narrows, the 2000 Talisman House new & selected Menashe, was picked up a summer or two ago at The Strand. It's inscribed to a prominent English critic-biographer, & contains about a half dozen poems added on the endpapers in Menashe's hand. Shame on you, J––– T–––, for tossing this one out! And shame on you, G––– H––– (prominent American poet), for discarding the copy of John Peck's Poems and Translations of Hi-Lo I found in Eugene, Oregon, in which Peck had entered a dozen or more tiny, meticulous corrections.


Steven Fama said...

I think peoples' relationships with the books they buy -- or sell -- shouldn't be judged.

You have no idea if it was shameful for whoever to sell off a particular book. It could have been an act of profound courage and deep sadness: if money was needed for some medical expense, for example. Or an act of profound love: they had to sell even the greatest of books to make room for the possessions of a new love.

Sorry, to lay it out like this, but geez just be grateful that you have the opportunity, for a little time at least, to have these particular books. Enjoy them, take care of them as best you can, and hope that when it's time for you to let them go -- or when they are pried out of your dead hands -- the books you love find another home equally as happy to have them.

Mark Scroggins said...

Good points, Steven. If I can't imagine getting rid of these volumes, that doesn't mean that others in other circumstances should be judged. And I am indeed grateful to have gotten hold of these particular copies.

Hey, really I'm just anticipating the stab of anguish I'll feel the first time I come upon an inscribed copy of one of my things on the $1 rack somewhere.

Don Share said...

I have a copy of that wonderful Hi-Lo book which also has John Peck's corrections. I love that book!!

Hm, G-- H--....