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This review is taken from PN Review 170, Volume 32 Number 6, July - August 2006.

PRIVATE ENTITY Samuel Menashe: New and Selected Poems, edited by Christopher Ricks (The Library of America) $20

Samuel Menashe as a public entity is mostly absent from his book covers and poems. The poems arise from his sensory and emotional experiences, but these experiences absorb him to such a degree that his 'self' becomes an almost unconscious assumption. In this state of mind, the fact of one's body as an object in the external world can come as a jolt:

I am shocked
By skin that shows
Through a hole
In my sock.

What kind of person would say such a thing? Of necessity something of a philosopher, the poet thinks about the human condition because it is his own. Menashe does not fall into the trap, in his quest for a common language, of relying exclusively on nature imagery. He is an urban poet and his images are drawn from urban experience, where 'armed trees frisk a windfall/Down paths that lampposts light'. Like a scene suggested with only a few props, each small poem employs an image or two - a window frame, a street lamp, a milk bottle - to suggest a world.

Through shame and fame, for half a century, Menashe's style has remained tenaciously itself. A style so distinctive it is immediately recognisable and that remains useful for a lifetime is a rare achievement, and in this case, one with implications for the way Americans think about poetry. The main reason for the neglect of Menashe's poetry, as Donald Davie observed ...


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