Here’s number #2 in my QLD Poetry Festival interview series… a chat with the delightfully slant Jon Paul Fiorentino, who is keeping his promise and making his way back across the Pacific to launch Needs Improvement at QPF 2013.
2013 is your second visit to QPF. What is it about the festival that has drawn you back across the Pacific?
When I was asked to read in 2010, I was able to launch Indexical Elegies and read with Ken Babstock, Angela Rawlings and August Kleinzahler. It was like a dream. I was overwhelmed to discover this amazing community of poets and writers. The positivity and kindness of the people was infectious and reminded me very much of the arts community I grew up in in Winnipeg. Brisbane quickly became one of my favourite places in the world. I promised myself that when the next book was ready, I would do everything I could to launch it at the QPF. Thankfully, I was invited again and my publisher, Coach House Books, helped to make it happen.
I am really glad that you have been able to keep that promise! What can you tell us about the new book? Is there a poem that you would like to share here as a preview?
Needs Improvement has three sections. “Things-As-Facts” which is a series of alyrics; “Needs Improvement” which is a series of misreadings and appropriations of various pedagogical materials as well as some visual schematic poems; and “Moda” which is a series of villanelles linked to various geographic places. It’s a very strange book, but I am a very strange person. Sure. Here is a poem called “Gag”:
Entirely my idea not a great one but entirely mine
There was a bicycle and an objectivist poet sort of riding it. Not
red or blue. Entirely my idea all twig and spoke and gag
I gag often these days like as if it wouldn’t catch up
Never my bicycle always entirely my idea and I share
the poet with a post-mountain time scholar from out east
Grey. Not silver but entirely grey
How does it feel to share the QPF stage with another bunch of fine Canadian poets – Sachiko Murakami, Jacqueline Turner, Paul Vermeesch & Shane Rhodes? And are there any particular events/artists on the program that you are really excited about seeing?
When I heard the other Canadians who were coming, I was thrilled. I am a fan of all four. I know Sachiko very well from the time she lived in Montreal. We have worked together on various projects and I was pleased to recommend her first book, The Invisibility Exhibit, for publication. Last time, I discovered the works of Jennifer Compton, Andrew Burke, and Jeremy Balius. I hope to discover more new voices this time.
What is your earliest poetry memory?
My earliest poetry memory is a memory of my grandfather’s laughter, and feeling shag carpet on my skin and being without words but longing for them. My earliest true engagement with poetry happened when I listened to The Smiths and heard Morrissey’s lyrics. The song was “These Things Take Time.” It prompted me to go out and steal a book of Oscar Wilde’s collected poetry. I read “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” over and over again. Since then I’ve never looked back but I’ve often looked sideways.
The root of the word ‘poet’ is ‘maker’. You’ve made wonderful mention of sense memories such as your grandfather’s laughter and lyrical memories such as hearing The Smiths for the first time, so what are the things that are currently influencing the ‘making’ of your poems?
I’m influenced a great deal by critical theory. Barthes is still my go-to guy. I’m very much moved by collaborations / discussions / healthy arguments with other writers these days. Also, I find that if I skip a day of anti-depressants, I see the world in a delightfully slant way.
Jon Paul Fiorentino’s first novel is Stripmalling, which was shortlisted for the 2009 Hugh MacLennan Award for Fiction. His most recent book of poetry is Indexical Elegies which recently won the 2010 CBC Book Club Award for Best Book of Poetry. He is the author of the poetry books The Theory of the Loser Class which was shortlisted for the 2006 A.M. Klein Award for Poetry and Hello Serotonin and the humor book Asthmatica. His new book of poetry is Needs Improvement (2013: Coach House Books). He lives in Montreal where he teaches creative writing at Concordia University, and edits Matrix magazine.