Tuesday, January 08, 2008

John Thomas Menesini, e pit ap h (Six Gallery Press/Convergence)

First thing – I know Menesini and so won’t pretend I’m in any way impartial here. That said, I’ve been amazed by his writing from day one, and continue to be. e pit ap h is his second collection (published by Six Gallery Press, who I have also published with – a second disclosure), which follows on from The Last Great Glass Meat Million (2003), and as great as that latter book was, this one might even be better. It’s tighter, more focused, more intense, more outraged. As James Liddy writes on e pit ap h’s back cover (and I quote the whole blurb because I really think it gets to the heart of Menesini’s poetry), “John Thomas Menesini is a lyricist turned satirist, a descriptive poet turned Beat, and a protest writer with a strong intimate tone. He is outraged by contemporary mores and makes no bones about it (and maybe takes no prisoners). He uses the body and body parts as a medium for outrage. He has a good wildness.”

Some of this outrage (and some of this satire) can be seen in “Political Science Fiction,” where

us sen rick santorum
picks his teeth with the splintered femur of some dead faggot
who died at the hands of good old boys
what tried to preserve decency
in dirt yard towns

and where “governors show each other their enflamed asses in acts of challenge/ hippo shit spray/ open yawp...” Thankfully Santorum was recently voted out of office, but those like him still cling to power. Menesini is not always overtly political, but there is often a sense in his writing of interrelations between the political and the personal. The neo-con politicians we have become so wretchedly familiar with are symbols of a deeper malaise in America, and it is this deeper malaise that preoccupies Menesini. As in “Karl Rove My Lover,”

now the terror lurks in toolsheds...

and I’m left on sidewalks
in all the heat
with vomit on my cuffs
giving out rites

The emphasis is not actually on Rove himself now, but the terror he represents manifested in one’s own literal and figurative backyard, i.e. the consciousness of a personal terror, the terror of one’s personal consciousness and memory. It’s Karl Rove as BOB from David Lynch’s Twin Peaks.

Like Lynch, Menesini is obsessed with the small town America from which he comes. One could almost even call him a regionalist, dealing heavily with the dead landscapes of Western Pennsylvania and the myriad dead towns it is home to, or with the cityscape of Pittsburgh. But “regionalist” often implies parochial and traditional, and Menesini is anything but. A working-class poet, to be sure, but with a sense of bohemianism, of surrealism, decadent Catholicism, and a sheer ability to channel language in unexpected and original ways. As he writes in “Musing When I Should Have Been Cleaning Toilets,” “‘being’ wears a filter” – the filter of language, with which, on some level, the poet mediates the world.

So Menesini is not afraid to give reign to wild streams of consciousness, knowing that it is indeed “a good wildness” (as Liddy put it), and that such a technique contains the potential for true revelation. These revelations are not always pleasant, but often brilliant. For example, in “Telegrams from a Burnt Place”: “orange is so close to brown it burns// brown ‘is’ the blood grit mud puddle broke tooth/ kickball wet sock tied up punch face/ dad yell street light oven burn wall sweat...” (And note the inverted commas on the verb ‘is’.) A personal favorite is “Wonder Woman is an Allegory for Fuckin’,” where Menesini’s main concerns, both personal and political, are fused into one sustained, surreal burst of controlled energy, a graph of the poetic mind in action. e pit ap h gets my vote for sleeper best collection of 2007. (Order from Small Press Distribution or Amazon.)

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