I first got to know John Thomas Menesini at an early Kerouac Fest in Windber Pennsylvania. After a frantic night of poetry and performance and heavy Yuengling consumption, I suggested to a group of early risers a trip to a diner up the street for breakfast. John and I bonded over some hash (corned beef), salty not smoked.
He was the first poet I got to know on a personal level. We talked about his poems, about poetry, he sent me chapbooks and pamphlets. I had been reading and collecting little magazines and small press publications for years but I remained distanced from that world myself. Meeting John would initiate a change in all that. In a short time I would start writing for RealityStudio and later start Mimeo Mimeo.
I would like to think that John got something out of our friendship as well. My interests were always more academic than John's; my take on his poetry more of the head than of the balls, but in one of our conversations I suggested he take a stab at the long poem. I was not thinking epic like Pound or Olson but instead Ginsberg. The Ginsberg of Witchita Vortex Sutra rather than Howl or Kaddish. A poem of the radio, the road, the billboard. A poem of movement and dictation. Loose and free.
Well, John took me up on it as his latest collection, Endo, published by Six Gallery Press, opens with "It was too much and it was nothing," his longest and, arguably, most ambitious poem to date. John's bread and butter as a poet is making myth out of the day to day grind of urban, suburban, and rural wastelands of Western Pennsylvania. In this poem, John takes on his childhood and his origins as a seer of visions and hearer of voices. Madness, sickness, alienation leads into the pursuit of poetry.
John writes, "I had a fever when I was two the day Elvis died/105 degrees/was rushed to the hospital/and dunked in ice water/force fed ice water/and icy grape juice/which was good too/sweet and so cold." It is passages like this in John's poetry that I love to over analyze. It is in this fever that John is baptisized into a world of visions and voices, a world of poetry. Elvis as white trash bard. Grape juice as sacrament, and a foreshadowing of John's love/hate relationship with drink and the drinking life. I read the grape juice as grape drink, that nectar of the trailer park as well as a connection to the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Tests of rundown flophouses and abandon lots that John would chronicle in his poems. Finally forgive me if I see in "sweet and so cold" a bit of William Carlos Williams, not the Williams of Paterson, but the Williams of the American Idiom and no ideas but in things.
John will always been in some ways my first poet and will be forever associated with self-discovery and nostalgia. This is appropriate as these are driving forces in Endo and his work as a whole.