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
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.