So wrote poet and sage Samuel Menashe in one of his numerous works addressing death, Menashe’s first Muse and greatest obsession. As he often mentioned in conversation, he became a poet at the age of 19, having survived the notoriously dangerous World War II offensive, the Battle of the Bulge. Although his death on Monday, August 22, at the age of 85, is a loss for the poetry world, it is also a reason to celebrate his encounter with his second love, death’s other side: eternity.
Those of us who have participated in the Jewish poetry scene in New York City over the last decade might argue that the journal Mima’amakim invented it. Though Jewish women and men have been performing and publishing poetry for many decades as part of a thriving New York poetry scene, Mima’amakim established the first readings and performances that featured not only poetry written by Jews, but also poetry with specifically Jewish content. On February 5 at the Sixth Street Synagogue, Mima’amakim will hold a publication party celebrating its last issue and 10 years of publishing innovative Jewish poetry.
Each Thursday, The Arty Semite features excerpts and reviews of the best contemporary Jewish poetry. This week, Rodger Kamenetz introduces the poetry of Samuel Menashe. This piece originally appeared on December 5, 2003, as part of the Forward’s Psalm 151 series. It is being published here online for the first time.
“April,” famously wrote T.S. Eliot in “The Waste Land,” “is the cruellest month.” Despite this underwhelming endorsement, the Academy of American Poets inaugurated April as the National Poetry Month back in 1996 and, every year since, has hyped up a surge of readings, publications and all other things poetry-related.