canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

TDR Interview: Jon Paul Fiorentino


Based on an insider trade tip from rob mclennan, Ottawa publisher and poet, I go and visit Jon Paul Fiorentino in the English department at Concordia University. 

I know things are going well because when I walk in he’s listening to the Best of Morrissey. Its March or April 2002 or sometime in that era; where the library walls are white and the street is white and the sky is white and everything is just a bright screen of constant flour. Jon Paul Fiorentino is a Transcona/Winnipeg poet living in Montreal where he is an editor for Matrix magazine. Transcona fragments (Cyclops Press 2002) is his second collection of poetry.

His other book is resume drowning (Broken Jaw Press).

Read TDR's review of transcona fragments

NGM: Where did you start writing?

JPF: As an undergraduate, I went to school at the University of Winnipeg, which used to be called United College back in the day (before I was born). Margaret Laurence went there, and started a little literary magazine and I am very much following the same trajectory. When I went to the U of W, I started up a lit zine called "dark leisure"-- we published some wonderful writers like Dennis Cooley, Robert Budde, Leon Rooke, Catherine Hunter, Todd Bruce. To this day, the literary community in Winnipeg considers me to be a slightly more feminine version of Margaret Laurence. Plus, I am a very good mother. I finished my undergraduate degree at Concordia University and currently, I am not finished my Master's degree at Concordia.

NGM: What else are you involved in?

JPF: I co-edit Matrix; I am editing The Cyclops Review; and I freebase (I think I mean freelance). I also read literature from time to time.

NGM: Who are some poets you could recommend?

JPF: Read George Elliot Clarke's Blue, Catherine Hunter's Lunar Wake, Robert Kroetsch's Seed Catalogue, Christian Bök's Eunoia, Nicole Brossard's Installations, Mary di Michele's Debriefing the Rose.

NGM: What can you tell a young poet who is consider emulating the poetry career of his peers, idols or those found in glamorous biographies?

JPF: Find a day job. Most Canlit poets have to supplement their income by hooking. Discover a publisher that publishes. Send the publisher a "private donation" consisting of narcotics. Get ready for fame. In all earnestness, there isn't much to say other than it is important to read small press books, not only to support these wonderful publishers, but also (as a writer) to see where your work might fit in. For instance, if you are publishing concrete poetry and language poetry then it is probably not a good idea to send it to Signal Editions.

NGM: Do spoken word events achieve a level of intimacy that other audience related arts events do not?

JPF: No. Events in which the readers/performers are engaging, entertaining, and generous to the audience achieve a level of intimacy. I don't think that the level of intimacy of an event is dependant on the genre. I think there are some poets and literary prose writers who have a better sense of performance than some spoken word performers. And then, of course, there are writers who do their work a great disservice by performing at events.

NGM: Montreal is a big town for performing poetry, with an abundance of spoken word talent, too numerous to list here. How important is performing poetry versus writing poetry in book form?

JPF: In Montreal, Ian Ferrier does a wonderful job of promoting local talent through a series called Wired on Words ( at Casa del Popolo. The reading series in Toronto I have participated in are The Idler Pub Reading Series and The IV lounge. In Winnipeg, Ace Art and Mondragon Cafe and Bookstore are very reader friendly. If I am performing at an event, my motivation lies in the possibility that I can hopefully persuade one or two or twenty people to pick up my book. This is very hard to do if one just goes up there and delivers poem after poem without giving anything of one's self to the audience. I want people to read my poetry, but if they choose not to, I hope they are at least entertained. There's nothing more depressing than a selfish, insular poetry reading.

NGM: Does your poetry reflect as certain relevance to encompass a larger audience? What do you strive for in your work?

JPF: I hope that my poems have a kind of universal appeal but I can't really make any bold claims as to its success. I write poems that operate within certain poetic convention while (hopefully) challenging convention at the same time. I strive for the moment when I have done my job as a poet, and presented a landscape of images, ideas, and possibilities; and then I feel I have earned the right to be indulgent and let enough of myself into the poem. I think a good poem conceals as much as it reveals. This is the nature of trope.

Nathaniel G. Moore’s fiction just went up at Another Toronto Quarterly. More of his work can be found at Notho Entertainment Group <>




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