Sunday, June 29, 2003

some notes on the poetry of ryan fitzpatrick & Jon Paul Fiorentino

I'm struck by the similarities between the poetry of ryan fitzpatrick & Jon Paul Fiorentino, both working the local prairie long poem from different geographical & poetic stances, but with much overlap. & all of this, with the fact that, until recently, the two might not even have been more than peripherally aware of each other.

Roughly the same age, these two prairie poets seem to be working similar sides of a poetic point-of-view, in their own means. Both are from working class rail suburbs that have been annexed into larger centres - fitzpatrick from Ogden, a suburb of Calgary, & Fiorentino from Transcona, a suburb of Winnipeg. Very deliberately, from two sides of the same prairie, the two poets work to transcend the lyric, even threaten to abandon it altogether. With an interest in bpNichol, & the disassociative prairie long poem, & the early suggestion of the poem as long as a life, as everything they have each done so far work into a particular whole, surrounding the places they come from, & have since left, whether to escape from, or better understand through distance.

As fitzpatrick wrote in an earlier version of his statement for the anthology evergreen: six new poets (2002, Black Moss Press: Windsor), "The pitch and roll of the long poem has something for me that the lyric never had. Maybe that's why i was blown away by Whitman and Ginsburg in high school and why writers like bpNichol and Bruce Andrews and Steve McCaffery appeal to me so much now. They can't hit what they can't see so you need to move fast and do as much as you can in that short time... The poems here are all from a series that continues to grow. Beginning as an offshoot of a short serial poem i finished and published in the summer of 2000 called revised notes, the series started as an exploration of the immediate world around me, the community of Ogden." fitzpatrick's moves are clear, scattered & physical, as in this fragment of "coyote on the tracks" - "in ogden / toward the bow river / toward glenmore tr / toward the oil refinery / toward the ogden shops // damn coyote bit / the rail with his sword / in repair" (p 111). In a review of revised notes in endnote #3/4, Leah Laxdal writes that "ryan fitzpatrick squeezes poetry into a compression suck of knives. His words cut straight lines of detail, images streaking blood with each row and verbal slab." Her description seems a bit much, but there is an impressive compression of detail in fitzpatrick's poetry, & important detail, whether references to the physical landscape of Ogden, or to the western god & trickster, coyote. His work reads very deliberate, even in seeming haste & slapdash, changing form to extend the boundaries of his landscape, while writing his landscape, as in these two stanzas from the extended piece, "a spade where the rail goes" (117-8):

we watch the rail to skyscraper blue sky
glass tower watches back
brick watch the bottom
in the line of the river we hide
watch oil saws on bark through
to ship oil
we see BP hold their esso notebooks
nametags clap hands
cash blue


we draw a sword where the rail goes
through the ogden shops
brick blue fathoming a contract line
like the robin in the tree nuzzes money
like sherwood tells stories about coyotes
pull seams with blue teeth
the poet throat cut
pages in oil barrels under graves bridge
that's what they say
bp in bed with capitalism then BP
blows corporate lips kisses

With no less care, Fiorentino's poetry is more emotionally moved & turbulent, with looser lines than fitzpatrick, & filled with reference to chemical intoxicants & abuse, trying to move through a river of mud with cement shoes. If Fiorentino's poetry had a body, it would often get trapped there, for constant daydreams of stars. In a statement written for the same anthology, Fiorentino says that "I often explain my poetry to others as a process of transmitting secrets. I am interested in creating a personal mythology; I am drawn to the notion of hauntings, of the persistence and inevitable indeterminacy of memory... Poetry is performative language. I want to perform acts of revelation and deception. I want to perform new ways of transcending and drowning." (p 29). Less fixed in the physical, his world of transcona is no less there, in lines that even the narrator finds highly suspect, as in the first & last stanzas of the six stanza "transcona fragments" (p 40):

ah good old ground tasting like invasive snow
salt reeling under exhaust no matter the cost
and don't forget to write from the east where
you will sit in a state of abandoned bliss stitched
to a street that hardly knows you


we quickly clothe ourselves and turn down the
heater and turn up the am radio and pretend to
be innocents, with decorative smiles for the
constable who was hoping for something more

Where it's too early to tell the form of fitzpatrick's beast, seen otherwise in a self-published chapbook & an issue of STANZAS, as well as his own (orange) magazine, Fiorentino's has already achieved multiples, in both publications, in his journal dark leisure for one, a chapbook, Poetic Stream Three (2001, above/ground press) & three poetry collections in quick succession hover (2000, Staccato chapbooks: Winnipeg), transcona fragments (2002, Cyclops Press: Winnipeg) & resume drowning (2002, cauldron books, Broken Jaw Press: Fredericton) - more in keeping with Kroetsch's ongoing Completed Field Notes, or Robin Blaser's The Holy Forest, for it's sweeping range of styles & sometimes disconnected connections in a single whole, than with bpNichol's The Martyrology, or William Carlos Williams' Patterson.

For both, it seems the disconnections are the things that keep the connections. As bpNichol's assertion, how the writing connects, even if only through being written by the same hand.

rob mclennan (originally appeared in filling station magazine)