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.