Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Samuel Menashe, New York Poet of Short Verse, Dies at 85

Samuel Menashe, a Greenwich Village poet whose jewel-like, gnomic short verse won him an ardent following in Britain and belated recognition in the United States when the Poetry Foundation gave him its first Neglected Masters Award in 2004, died on Monday in Manhattan. He was 85.

The cause was complications of heart disease, Nicholas Birns, a literary critic and friend, said.

Mr. Menashe (pronounced men-AHSH) specialized in very short, often unpunctuated poems of less than 10 lines, with a religious or metaphysical bent. The British scholar P. N. Furbank called them “perfect little mechanisms, minute cathedrals.”

In “The Niche,” included in his 2000 collection “The Niche Narrows,” Mr. Menashe limited himself to four lines:

The niche narrows

Hones one thin

Until his bones

Disclose him

Although his poems appeared with some regularity in journals like Partisan Review and The New Yorker, he wrote and lived as a bohemian, and throughout his career encountered difficulties in finding a book publisher.

His first poetry collections appeared in Britain, where poets like Kathleen Raine and Donald Davie championed his cause, and his work was included in the influential series Penguin Modern Poets. It was Ms. Raine, a poet and critic at Cambridge University, who brought his work to the attention of Victor Gollancz, who published “The Many Named Beloved” in 1961.

In 1971, “No Jerusalem but This,” a collection of poems on Jewish themes, became his first book to be published in the United States. Stephen Spender wrote in The New York Review of Books that nothing was more remarkable about Mr. Menashe than “the fact that his poetry goes so little remarked.”

“Here is a poet who compresses thoughts and sensations into language intense and clear as diamonds.”

Samuel Menashe Weisberg was born on Sept. 16, 1925, in Brooklyn and grew up in Elmhurst, Queens, where his father, a Jewish immigrant from Russia, ran a laundry and dry-cleaning business.

He enrolled in Queens College but left in 1943 to enlist in the Army. As an infantryman with the 87th Division, he fought his way through France, Belgium and Germany. In a single day during the Battle of the Bulge, all but 29 members of his company of 190 men were either killed, wounded or taken prisoner.

“When I came back, I heard people talking about what they were going to do next summer,” he told The New York Times in 2003. “I was amazed that they could talk of that future, next summer. As a result, I lived in the day. For the first few years after the war, each day was the last day. And then it changed. Each day was the only day.”

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