canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

transcona fragments
by Jon Paul Fiorentino
Cyclops Press, 2002

Reviewed by Stephen Brockwell

Read TDR's interview with Jon Paul Fiorentino

Jon Paul Fiorentino has the gift of the polyvalent, easy-to-say phrase; the implications of his lines unfold rather than express in transcona fragments, a verbal diorama of place, history and the self. In these lines from "queen’s court", it may not immediately strike the reader that there is something peculiar in the self that does not see the northern lights as remarkable:

let the fields sprinkle like lamé
let our breath meet in the sky under
the unremarkable undulation of northern lights

The disquieting sense of a distanced self is explored but, true to itself, never directly spoken of, and, generally to Jon’s credit, never fully resolved. In a few poems I feel that the voice warrants a less covert stance; stereotypes of suburban youth should be confronted, such as the one in these lines from the poem "the residents of st. james":

i had a tylenol breakfast this morning
the residents of st. james were still sleeping
i browsed through their tool shack secrets and early morning sins
from my window
i got bored
i browsed through the book that I own

This particular example of anti-poetry poetry doesn’t adequately undermine its own terms because it is composed, with insufficient irony, in the very conventions it critiques.

Thankfully, many of these poems cannot escape Jon’s natural lyricism despite his efforts. At the level of the line and phrase, there is a syntactic and semantic coherence. The fragments arise from the way chunks of lines from one voice mingle with those of another in tone, context and reference. The long poem "psychotropes" succeeds with this strategy:

you will surface
clinging to

you will pass
these bottled spirits around
with a grand molecular gesture

Occasionally, I found the interplay of voices less convincing:

the first thing I remember about Winnipeg is the womb and the poetry I
radiated within while sucking on a fort garry ale and looking for a

right on motherfucker hook me up –
two for twenty-five? i love you man.

("prairie long poem")

An increased emphasis on discursiveness (referenced in "prarie long poem") might sharpen the text. One of the strengths of this book is its play with dichotomies. At times, I feel that play should be more vigorous.

Jon’s work is positioned in the context of influences: explicitly Robert Kroetch, Anne Marriott, Robert Budde and implicitly, I think, John Newlove and George Bowering. The interplay between lyric and anti-lyric, ambiguous presentation(s) of self, and tension between wide angle and zoom lenses of history make transcona fragments a distinguished debut. Few first books of poems in Canada have been so carefully positioned in the tradition and so thoughtfully composed.

Stephen Brokwell's second book, Cometology, was published by ECW in spring 2001. His poem Parthenon Stallion's Head appeared in The Danforth Review.







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