Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Curriculum Vitae” addresses the reader’s ideas about the work of the poet. One is used to certain stereotypical images of poets. It is familiar to see poets as wild-eyed bards, doomed and persecuted by society. Menashe’s view sees the poet as living on the margins of everyday existence. Yet he sees the poet as part of that existence, not liberated or estranged from it by his art. The poet is not a better person than his fellow citizens, nor does he lead a richer and fuller life. This poet does not sit solitary in an ivory tower. As Menashe has said, “My ivory tower is in a tenement on Thompson Street.” (Thompson Street is in downtown New York City, where the poet resides).

Menashe does not glorify the life of the poet. Instead, he lets the reader know that it requires extraordinary demands without necessarily producing extraordinary rewards. The poet is solitary. His is an ordinary, almost dreary solitariness, not a special one. There is an artistic breakthrough at the end of the poem, after the poet has withdrawn from the outer world into his own sphere. It is not, however, a revelation of otherworldly beauty. Instead, the poet looks inward to the very skin and bone of his own being. There is little exaltation here, and even less frenzy.

Yet the poem does not leave the reader with a sense of disillusionment. Its belief in poetry is an intense and strong one. By denying both poet and reader easy, gratifying rewards, the poem...

(The entire section is 489 words.)