This week’s featured poems are by Samuel Menashe, a New York poet who received the first Neglected Masters Award in 2004 by Chicago’s Poetry Foundation. Menashe died in New York City on August 22, 2011.
HNN’s poetry editor, Daniel Thomas Moran, a friend of Menashe, writes:
“Samuel Menashe was a poet. One might assume many things about that, but there are few I have known in my own life as a poet who can qualify for that title in the purest sense of it as did Samuel Menashe. He lived most of his life in three rooms in a tenement (as he would call it) on Thompson Street in Greenwich Village for some 55 years. He watched the world outside his window each morning until the sun rose high enough to take the light from his window and into the street below. At that point he went down to the streets and nearly every day, to Central Park, where he knew every path, every bench, every statue and every knoll. He could walk there for hours with anyone who would join him and he would tell them stories and recite his poems as long as they would listen. He knew every poem he had ever written by heart. He would say to me, “What’s the surprise, I wrote them.” He lived a life of ideas and of words, shunning the pedestrian matters of life, the news, the latest fads and fashions. He owned one pair of shoes, one tie and he wore them until they were shredded.
But it seemed that he knew everyone and everyone knew of him in the world of art and artists. None of it mattered. There was another poem in his head and he was determined to find it. And he did, many times.
In a world which generally leaves its poets unappreciated and even shunned, he was admired by the finest minds in academia, not as a poet of consequence, or one who deserved attention, but an important poet. And not among the poets of his day or the poets of his city, but among the poets of the ages. And he was unique in the truest sense of the word. I never knew a man more in love with life and all that implies. He watched closely, both the birds and the stars, the sounds and colors of words, and the shadows on his walls. An atheist, he spoke of the sacredness of living and about his own mortality with an honesty which was affecting in the most profound way.
Samuel Menashe was one of my dearest friends and someone I learned more from than any human being I have known. One day I brought him to spend time at my house in the country, something he always resisted. It took him away from The City he loved and his splendid routine. It was a very dark night with no moon and when we got out of my car beside the house I told him to look up.
The sky was thick with stars and he was transfixed as a child at an amusement park at the sight of it. I got to see those stars often, but they never looked the same after that night. I could not again look at a starry sky and not think of Samuel looking up and marveling as he had. He had made the stars greater even than just the stars. But it was the same with the sea, and the trees, the many faces and buildings, and the many names of the sky. What a privilege to have had one’s eyes opened by such a man. And it is there for anyone to know, in his poems. A fistful of gems. I will miss him.” – Daniel Thomas Moran
Selected Poems by Samuel Menashe
There is never an end to loss, or hope
I give up the ghost for which I grope
Over and over again saying Amen
To all that does or does not happen
The eternal event is now, not when
Owe, do not own
What you can borrow
Live on each loan
Why not be in debt
To one who can give
You whatever you need
It is good to abet
Another’s good deed
The water we are
Startled by a star –
It is not dark yet
The sun has just set
The water we are
Alone as that star
That startled us,
And as far
For William Jay Smith
The heart I hear in bed tonight
Is mine—it frightens me
To hear my heart so clearly
It could stop at any time
Keep your ear to the ground
I was told without fear
Now I am hollowed for sound
And it is my heart I hear
If you’d like to contribute original poetry to Humanist Voices in Verse, write to email@example.com with “Poetry” in the subject line. Please send no more than three poems for consideration per week.