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October 24, 2002 Drowning in sorrowful success: Jon Paul Fiorentino



Jon Paul Fiorentino

Photo by Andrew Dobrowolskyj

by Scott McRae

It might be enough to make even the notoriously morose poet Jon Paul Fiorentino happy: Mirror has named him a 2003 Noisemaker, he had two books of poetry published in 2002, namely Transcona Fragments and Resume Drowning, both received glowing reviews and, to top it off, by the time this is printed he will have handed in his thesis and be finished his master’s in creative writing and literature at Concordia.

Although Fiorentino admits that he does occasionally feel content and that his melancholy is sometimes tongue-in-cheek hyperbole, he believes that too much happiness can be detrimental. Depression, he says, is a prerequisite for poetry. “It’s important to feel dissettled. You need to feel a sense of urgency to write, and you don’t feel this when you’re excessively comfortable.”

Fiorentino’s writing reflects this discomfort. It is sometimes lyrical, sometimes anti-lyrical but almost always embedded with sadness and cynicism. For example, he writes: “life begins when the vial is empty/and in an unremarkable office/somewhere in the city/a therapist can feel me coming.”

He describes his particular brand of poetry as “miserablism,” and identifies strongly with the post-prairie school, a genre that “subverts its prairie home but is still tethered to it.”

Home has been an important concept to this native of Transcona, Manitoba. “I was so hopelessly attached to that place,” he says.

However, moving to Montreal to study under Mary di Michele, a Concordia English professor and poet, gave him some much-needed perspective. “I was trying to understand what home means. You can only do that with a certain distance.”

His book of poems Transcona Fragments was the result.

Although Fiorentino’s poems have an intellectual vigour, they do not stray off into what he terms “the existence of knowing but not living.” However, he struggles over deciding how vulnerable he should allow himself to be in his poems. “We, as poets, often come up a bit short because we’re often not willing to be not only emotive but emotional.”

Perhaps this is a natural protective mechanism; as Fiorentino warns, rejection is a fact of life for poets. “I’ve been rejected approximately 80 to 90 per cent of the time.” Even still, he continues to write. “You keep doing it because you believe in it,” he says.

He is now working on a manuscript entitled Hello Serotonin, due out in 2004. “Half of this manuscript will revisit territory from Transcona Fragments, the other half will be a linguistic response to synaptic activity.”

In other words, the syntax of the text will emulate neurons firing.

“It’s more ambitious than anything I’ve done before,” Fiorentino admits, looking almost pleased.

winter is listening
from Resume Drowning by Jon Paul Fiorentino)

winter is listening to you unfold on the hardwood
winter is listening to my head hit the headboard
to my filtered whisper, to your unconscious moan, into
to the hiss of
muted traffic
you curl up like burnt paper and i stay closed off,
bedridden, thinking in
slow motion
across the barricaded expanse of the city, citizens
trample thawing
lawns, insects hum in subversive frequencies, the
streets erode in a pathetic whine, and st. denis wakes
up late and stretches out like an
inpatient left out in the hallway

ode to my valium
from Resume Drowning by Jon Paul Fiorentino)

incessantly doting on me
you are mildly encouraging
you ruin my posture
I’m generally indifferent to
you in me endlessly
leisure class drug
you are confused
and perhaps a little bitter
it’s not what you are
it’s what you signify:
there’s no one home
the windows are coated
in a creamy beige pastel
a relationship weathers
everything is singular
sedated and fabulous
a medication in need
of medication

Resume Drowning, by Jon Paul Fiorentino, is published by Broken Jaw Press ($15.95, paperback, 96 pp). Transcona Fragments, also by Jon Paul Fiorentino, is published by Cyclops Press ($14.95, paperback, 96 pp)