Q. Welcome to Center Stage, Mendes. You dwell in the land of Italy, which spurs visions of pizza, pasta, and meatballs. As well as some grape beverages folks call wine. Much to my surprise you also mentioned that large semi-aquatic rats called nutria—which I tend to equate with the swamps down in New Orleans, USA—also happen to be “your neighbors.” So what’s the landscape like where you live?
A. First of all, Mick, thanks for having me. Indeed, we have nutria too!
I live near the Po River, the longest river in Italy. My town is surrounded by water like Venice—and has palaces created by Renaissance artists like Florence. So we mix those characteristic with swamps, cultivated fields—and nutria.
If you want a better description of where I live, you can read “Georgics” by the poet Virgil. He was a fellow citizen of mine. Those funny rats are a real pain in the ass for many farmers here. Just as I suppose they are for those who live in New Orleans. We probably share more things with that city than we imagine. We have even a crocodile dangling from the nave of a church. But that is another story--
Q. If I understand correctly, you hold a college degree in Philosophy. So who do you feel was born first: Mendes Biondo The Poet? Or Mendes Biondo The Philospher? And do these two aspects of your personality get along well—or do they tend to squabble?
You’re right about my degree. I wrote a few poems about those days. Funny times.
Probably neither The Poet nor The Philosopher exist. Those words are more like adjectives. I mean, you can be many things but still be the same complex and unique person.
Going back to my “man-of-the-river” roots, it’s all about the flowing of things. “But this is philosophy you can say—this is Heraclitus.” Yes, you’re right. But do not forget he wrote his thoughts using verses—as many other philosophers in the past did. And so we return to the starting point.
Q. Besides being both a philosopher and a poet, you also work as a journalist in order to keep pasta on your table—as well as those Food Pyramid essentials like “fruit" (wine) and “grains” (malt beverages). To make your life even more complex, you write in English as well as Italian. How old were you when your first learned English. And what maddening devil also coaxed you into writing poetry in English as well as Italian?
Take a seat, because this answer will be quite long. It happened many years ago, way back in history, when Caesar passed the Rubicon …
No, OK, maybe I can flash forward a bit. I started learning English during kindergarten, that’s the truth. My classmates and I were part of an experimental program about learning foreign languages. I suddenly fell in love with English and I kept studying it during the high school period, but not as much as I wanted. I have a high school diploma in classical languages—yep, I studied Greek and Latin too—and English was a subject like all the others. But I was lucky because all the teachers and the professors I met helped me to learn English the best.
Then, why I decided to put a virtual rucksack on my shoulders and wander into the English poetry world? As you said before: madness, a desire for adventure—and because of that demon. Did you know there was a little demon in Latin culture who pranked medieval writers and copyists? Search Titivillus on Google. He was a funny guy.
Q. Your first book foray wasn’t a solo project. You partnered with Catfish McDaris in Wisconsin and Marc Pietrzykowski in Rochester, New York. The three of you then collaborated to form the international magazine Ramingo’s Porch. Please share how you guys met—and what spurred the creation of this first poetry project. Since I once again sacrificed too many brain cells to the gods of fermented grains I can’t recall its name.
A. I met Catfish and Marc when Cat was working on an anthology of tribute poems dedicated to the work of Vincent Van Gogh. Marc was the publisher. The anthology about Vince Van is titled “Resurrection of a Sunflower” and contains the work of poets from all over the world. Cat did a great work with that killer book.
We liked each other as authors and I came up with the mad idea to start a print magazine. Now we publish only digital—easier but, first of all, cheaper. But we will publish a printed version of the “Best Of 2019.”
Q. Poetry books typically involve themes. Did you have a thematic approach in mind when you decided to write your first solo collection SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS? How do you view the poems in your collection?
A. Differently from what some might think, this is not a book of Italian recipes; but I’ll probably write one of those when I’m an old relic.
In this book I mostly collected poems I considered right to put together. To be honest, part of this effort was made by my sweet-half Elena. She did great work and I’ll never be able to thank her enough for being so supportive and patient with me.
The book is a collection of worries, pains, and pleasures I’ve felt in this part of my life. I wrote about the fear of being without a job good enough to pay bills. I also tried to push out of my pen all the difficulties of a long-distance relationship like mine. It’s a book for people in love and in anger. It’s for the “love-lorn.”
Oh, and it is for Italian language lovers too—because there is the Spaghetti version of all the poems on the front.
I keep on writing new stuff. But I promise the next collection will be easier to put into a bookshelf with tags.
MR: Well congratulations Mendes on your first published book of poetry. And I’m glad you’re forging ahead on life’s metaphorical river as you continue to write new works.
A Canadian poet who also has a sweet-half and lives in mounds of snow higher than his eyeballs—but who’s perilously surrounded by bears in his neighborhood rather than sharp-toothed-nutria—describes your book SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS this way:
“Mendes Biondo’s words are words of conflict, words of voyage and longing. They are the words of a man trying to find his place in an unstable modern world in constant flux. There is a yearning for the old, but with a candid realization that modernity stops for no one and that the technology we have all become so reliant on in our daily lives has stripped us in many ways of our identity and humanity and isolated us from our place; our hands in the dirt. There is much wrong with what is clean and easy and Biondo’s work is one of sensual refutation.”
Deep thoughts without a doubt. But I guess when you get that deeply buried in snow—and can’t get to the liquor store so you can freely practice the ritual sacrificing of brain cells to the gods of grain and malt beverages .... Well, then one has plenty of time—as well as a surplus of healthy brain cells that allow for such deep reflections.
Thankfully, fine audience, I’m not in a similar state. So I’m going to get down-n-dirty with this bottle of Four Roses. Perhaps you’ll join me in lighting a candle to the gods of grain in hopes they will keep our Canadian friend alive and sane through the winter. And likewise that they’ll keep the nutria in Italy from gnawing their way through Mendes Biondo’s book collection. Heaven knows my idea of worship sounds a whole lot safer than visiting a church that’s got a crocodile dangling from its nave!
“Spaghetti and Meatballs” is on Amazon:
You can also visit Mendes at
the Ramingo's Porch blog.
RAMINGO! Facebook Page: