Wednesday 20 June 2007

Samuel Menashe

In 1997, while doing some writing at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, I met the New York poet Samuel Menashe. The following year, in Manhattan to direct my second film 'The Bumblebee flies Anyway', I contacted Sam and we became friends. More than friends - he became a kind of father figure for me and also made sure that I was okay. I would get messages on my answering machine from him if I hadn't been in contact for a week or so - wanting to make sure that this Irishman in a strange city was doing alright - and we would meet to take a stroll in Central Park. I also met Sam's friend John Thornton. John and Sam met when they signed up the same day to join the US Army and fight in World War Two. They have remained friends ever since and hardly a day goes by that they don't meet in Central Park - though both men are now in their eighties.

Samuel's work is distinctive in its precision - some of his poems may be only a few lines. I have attended a few readings he has given, however, and in many ways the beauty of his poetry is tied to his voice and his 'performance'. There is a cd of Sam reading his poetry - please buy it!

In the summer of 2000 Sam was again spending time in Ireland during his 75th year. I collected him from friends in Kildare where he was staying and we went on a holiday together travelling north to Donegal. While we were on that trip, we took a walk one evening along a strand. Sam halted with a piece of wood and wrote a poem of his in the sand;

Pity us

By the sea

On the sands

So briefly

As he was doing this, I took a photograph.

When I sent him photographs of his holiday with me, he singled out this photograph as the one that 'defined' him in his 75th year. The photograph was used on the cd cover.

In 2004 Poetry magazine of Chicago gave Sam their first 'neglected masters' award and a collection of his work was published in 2005 by the Library of America to mark his eightieth birthday.

I last saw Sam last year when I was in New York on my way to my son Steve's diploma cermony as he completed his medical college studies to become Doctor Steven Duffy MD. Sam was in poor health, but I took the subway with him up from his apartment in downtown Manhattan to meet John Thornton and take a stroll with them in Central Park.

Thanks, Sam - and John - for your friendship.

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