Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Flash Interview #13—Joe Fiorito

Joe Fiorito was born in Fort William, Ontario, in 1948. The author of eight books, he is a veteran journalist, working first as a CBC Radio producer, and then as a city columnist for the Montreal Gazette, The Globe & Mail, The National Post and the Toronto Star newspapers. Fiorito won the National Newspaper Award for Columns in 1995; the Bressani Prize for Short Fiction in 2000; and the City of Toronto Book Award in 2003. He is married and lives in Toronto.

Fiorito's second collection of poetry, All I Have Learned Is Where I Have Been, was published this month by Véhicule Press.

The following interview was conducted by e-mail.

Carmine Starnino: Observation is a big part of your poetry—“no ideas but in things,” as W. C. Williams put it. How do you know you’ve captured a detail or an action appropriately? What tells you that something you’ve seen, then wrestled into words, has become poetry?

Joe Fiorito: There was a certain amount of violence at home when I was a child; it was unpredictable. In response I developed a quick, keen eye—I looked for clues, found them fast, learned to recognize patterns and remember them. Then, in my teens, just as I was beginning to write, I found Pound’s "In A Station of The Metro," and it confirmed what I knew instinctively: that it was possible to see a thing as it was, while at the same time seeing what it suggested. I have always written from an image or a vivid impression, on the theory that if something grabs me it will grab you. And I assume a smart reader: if I can show you a thing as I have seen it, then I know you will understand what I mean. If I have an image in mind, I trust it is there for a reason; if I can get close to the reason—if I sense danger, shock, or surprise, even after the 12th or 15th draft—then I know have found the poem.

CS: According to your notes, many poems come from stories people have told you—repurposed talk, as it were. Why do you look for music in the way people speak?

JF:  Wind, waves, voice, verse: I don’t have a long theory of how phrasing adjusts meaning, but I know in my bones that the way a thing is said reveals not just the song, but the singer. We speak as we think, and we edit what we say as we go, in fits and starts, improvisationally; the rhythm of spoken word is my kind of jazz.

CS: You’ve excelled at whatever genre you’ve set your mind to—memoir, fiction, journalism; what can you do in poetry that you can’t do in any other form?

JF:  The sharpest knife makes the cleanest cut. A whistle gets attention. Poetry is efficient. Or, if you will allow me, sudden prayers make god jump; who reads poetry is god. (Thank you for “excelled.”)

CS: You’ve spent a lot of time writing about survival, often about people who endure in the face of shocking conditions. What lessons did you take away from them that could be useful right now? 

JF: Raymond Souster wrote every day until the end. I have come to understand that the greatest achievement in life, as in art, is simply to endure; to go to work and come home; to eat your rice and wash your bowl; and, in the case of this quarantine, breathe in, breathe out, and carry on.


Stephanie Martin said...

Thanks for this Q & A, and an insight into Joe's musical mind. I enjoyed Joe's last poetic collection "City Poems" and its connection to a real community. I'll look forward to reading this next book with anticipation.
Steph Martin

M Christine C. said...

Wonderful interview.
Félicitations - tu continues face à tous les défis.
M Christine C said...

Beautiful interview. Hey, post a couple of sample poems, here and on the Vehicule website! Don't be coy.

Al Moritz

Pam Barnsley said...

Interesting interview. I definitely see how changing the way ideas are phrased changes their meaning, whether from prose to poem, or from one rhythm in a poem to another choice of rhythm. I wonder if for Joe Fiorito, it's an instinctive musical understanding that inclines him to his choices. Whatever, it makes for some great poetry!