Samuel, The Concise Poet

Monday, December 28, 2009

"The struggle is against too many words!" says Greenwich Village poet Samuel Menashe.  For more than 50 years, Menashe has lived in the same fifth-floor tenement walkup on Thompson Street. 

Jam-packed with books and papers, the apartment is home to some serious wordplay. It's here that Menashe works out his poems; tweaking his compositions, word by word, until they are as bare and honest as he demands that they be.

A typical Menashe poem is shorter than a haiku, sometimes as short as this:

A pot poured out
Fullfills its spout.

"Every word has to count," says Menashe. "Sometimes a poem may go through decades until I finally get the word that makes the poem."

For almost all of his career, Menashe was largely unknown in the United States. It wasn't until 2006, at 81 years old, that he finally got his break: The Poetry Foundation in Chicago honored him with its first Neglected Masters Award and he became the first living American poet to have his work published by the Library of America.

UPDATE: Samuel Menashe died on Aug. 22nd, 2011. He was 85.

PLUS: Watch the backstory on this Know Your Neighbor. Two men of letters (David, features editor at Maxim magazine; Samuel the poet) meet in a Barnes & Noble and discover that they are leading nearly parallel lives. "It's like he's my Ghost of Christmas Future," David says.


More in:

Comments [22]


This morning I received an email that appeared to leave only the initial of there name so, I wrote:
"NYC is the city" you never sleep "and turn to dialogues in monologues, monologues in syllables,
and those in the lonely letters. "
Be lost meaning of the word?
And after looking for poetry and poets, by chance I found this beautiful film! .. because that is poetry! ...
... - "That sky your time there,
is not heaven, nor blue,
shame that such beauty is not true. "
I congratulate you Samuel, for giving me the poetry of your life.

Apr. 09 2011 03:35 PM
Dion Nittis from Antigua, West Indies

My lifelong friend and mentor, whose spirit has guided me since we first met in Central Park, 1971. Wonderful to see this little film.

Apr. 04 2010 01:21 PM
Candace Freeland from Kauai

Aloha Jennifer,
I am a friend of Ute's living in Hawaii and a professional photographer. She sent me the link to your video knowing that I would be touched by your work which I certainly am - a beautiful portrait - love the pacing, the light, the respectful presentation of a nakedly honest man - thank you!

Mar. 21 2010 03:22 PM
steve from nyc

a wonderful piece.
there's a good article abt Samuel in The Villager, Dec 18-24, 2009. Vol 22 #32. You can find it on-line,

Mar. 15 2010 12:22 PM
susan krieger

We met Samuel Menasche at a movie Fish Tank in the village . He reinterpreted the movie. He gave us this website. Thank you Samuel. You are a treasure.
Susan and Lynn

Jan. 22 2010 01:27 PM
Fred Sasaki from CHI

Lovely! I've always wanted to see that bathtub standing upon cat feet!

Jan. 20 2010 03:37 PM
Pat Duffy from New York City

Samuel Menahse is a true 'full-time' poet--with his devotion to the beauties and brevities of language, liberating meaning by eliminating word excess..and with his apartment full of papers, paintings, poems, he lives poetry and is a treasure

Jan. 08 2010 08:08 AM
Cheryl from Los Angeles

My cousin Schmeil...Samuel a cult figure in our home. Our favorite poem of his is as follows:
"Around my neck
and amulet
between my eyes a star
A ring in my nose
and a gold chain
to keep me where you are. are one of a kind! And Jennifer, you did a terrific job at catching his essence.

Jan. 05 2010 01:27 AM
jim on Mac Dougal from A block away from wnyc and samuel

Thank you for this beautiful little piece and thank you for letting me know who my neighbors are.

Jan. 04 2010 09:17 AM

I have known Samuel all my life and he is an intense and marvelously complex personality with a talent to match! His poetry shall live forever.

Jan. 03 2010 04:55 PM
saddie from Greenwich Village

beautiful, thanks

Jan. 03 2010 06:53 AM
Beata Ballard

Your video, Jennifer, like Samuel himself, is a work of art. Thank you --and your assistants-- for this labor of love!

Jan. 01 2010 04:23 PM
12-String Frank from Staten Island, NY

I've never heard of him, but nice to hear him actually rhyme. I like his ideas on poetry, considering that the poetry of today has no "poetry".

What's sad is that his landlord is probably waiting for him to die so he/she can take over flat and raise the rent to a psychotic $2,000 a month!

Dec. 31 2009 02:21 PM
Gregory Christiano` from New Jersey

Samuel Menashe is brand new to me! In this brief video I found him to be gentle yet dynamic, so passionate and refined. He has such a soothing voice with a deep resonance, and I could listen to him read poetry for hours, so easy on the nerves. He is quite elegant in my mind. It is so fitting that he lives in Greenwich Village the home of so many talented artists. I am so grateful to have discovered him!

Dec. 31 2009 01:55 AM

This is wonderful.

Dec. 30 2009 10:18 PM
Yvette from New York

We have known Menashe for decades, and I still treasure a poem he wrote for me about 20 years ago. Wonderful, charming, galant man! Worthy choice.

Dec. 30 2009 09:45 AM
marge hirsh

Jennifer, I love the comments, photos, his eyes, hands voice, his excitement with life, and, of course, the poems. I am inspired to use fewer words (if I could only find the perfect ones), and yet say more. Thanks for the link.

Dec. 29 2009 04:51 PM
Mark William Jackson from Sydney, Australia

I first read about Samuel Menasche a few years back when he was awarded the Poetry Magazine Neglected Masters Award. His style is truly amazing and inspirational, if poetry is to survive it needs to cut to the chase and hit hard, Menasche's works hit you right where you feel. Unfortunately I haven't been able to pick up any of his works here in the antipedes, only little pieces that spill through the internets. Thank you for this article.

Dec. 29 2009 04:13 PM
Ute Arnold from Point Pleasant, Pa.

Jennifer, this is so complete,...just like the poet i am too stunned by life, his life, to use words to describe my response,..I am simply awed by your ways of catching his portrait and revealing a little bit to me, visually and in sounds ...which is just enough so that i don't need more....
I wish I could live life with more simplicity,... and maybe i will

Dec. 29 2009 11:26 AM
bryan young

samuel menashe is excellent. good call.

Dec. 28 2009 01:23 PM
Laura from New York, NY

I love this video -- particularly the way you used his recitations along with images of his home.

Dec. 28 2009 01:17 PM
Rick Rofihe from New York City

Read seven poems by Samuel Menashe at

Dec. 28 2009 11:06 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.


About Know Your Neighbor

Know Your Neighbor is a video series about the characters, legends, and good folk living in your midst.

Nominate your neighbor: I'm looking to profile fascinating people in every corner of the city. Leave a comment or email about someone you'd like me to profile, and I just may come to your 'hood to produce a video about their story.


Supported by