Wednesday, October 12, 2005


Pardon my cynicism, everyone--I'm really a very sweet guy!--but after all the hoopla I've been hearing about "God's October Surprise," last weekend's earthquake comes as a pretty low blow from He Who Must Not Be Named.

was the surprise? Gee, thanks. If I'd have known, I'd have spent Rosh Hashanah singing hymns to Shiva.

(I had to say that to someone--and if not you, who?)

On a happier note, last week I was invited to the Poetry Foundation's Pegasus Awards banquet at Millennium Park here in Chicago. Cocktails chatting with Rosellen Brown and Marv Hoffman; dinner on the stage of Pritzker Pavillion (all those empty seats!); and, on every plate, a swellegant, elegant, brand new copy of Samuel Menashe's New and Selected Poems, freshly published by the Library of America as part of the Foundations' "Neglected Master" series, with an introduction by the great British critic Christopher Ricks, he most recently of Dylan's Visions of Sin. (Menashe had another New and Selected published a few years back, called The Niche Narrows, published by Talisman House.)

Menashe is an odd sort of poet. He writes short poems, mostly, whose density of sound reminds me a little of Lorine Niedecker or even my beloved Ronald Johnson, but without the playfulness of either. Instead, he's rather somber, even when protesting his happiness and desire to please. As a Jewish poet, he's also rather odd: willfully prophetic, but in a way that lacks the idiosyncratic dazzle--the sense that this poem needs to be said no matter its strangenessthat you find in, say, Allen Grossman. (This isn't a bad thing, always--I often find Grossman labored, and hard to read at length--but I toss it out as an initial response.) Grace Shulman said somewhere that his Jerusalem poems were no more Jewish than Blake's were. That strikes the right note, I think.

You can find an interview with Menashe here, at the Poetry site, with links to a fistful of poems; an essay on him by Dana Gioia here; and if you want some poems, here's an early, unobjectionable one--the title poem of his first book, but not one of his more satisfying poems, over the long haul, I think--
O Many Named Beloved
Listen to my praise
Various as the seasons
Different as the days
All my treasons cease
When I see your face
and here are a couple of his more recent pieces, which I prefer:

Salt and Pepper

Here and there
White hairs appear
On my chest--
Age seasons me
Gives me zest--
I am a sage
In the making
Sprinkled, shaking

Family Silver

That spoon fell out
Of my mother's mouth
Before I was born,
But I was endowed
With a tuning fork

More soon--be well--E

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