Friday, June 23, 2006

Jon Paul Fiorentino's The Theory of the Loser Class

Foreign Weed

A trail of loosestrife led me

Always maintained a semblance of balance
the challenge to temporality

That is to say
I'm lonely or lonesome or both

At least
it was a nice ride

An easy challenge
an impossible morning

Don't forget to miss the
longest losing streak ever

Impossible to miss me
not winning (p 55)
Montreal author Jon Paul Fiorentino has been working his version of the "omega male" and notions of failure for some time, through his previous poetry collections Hover (Winnipeg MB: Staccato Chapbooks, 2000), Resume Drowning (Fredericton NB: cauldron books, Broken Jaw Press, 2002), Transcona Fragments (Winnipeg MB: Cyclops Press, 2002) and Hello Serotonin! (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2004), and his collection of short fiction, Asthmatica (Toronto ON: Insomniac Press, 2005). His new poetry collection, The Theory of the Loser Class (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2006), as the back cover claims, takes its title from The Theory of the Leisure Class, the book Thorstein Veblen published in 1899 that "recalibrated North America's class system," and, by introducing such "terms like 'conspicuous consumption' and 'nouveau riche,' […] identified a new demographic: the leisure class, a caste of the elite who could afford to spend all of their time in pursuit of fun." Working out the ideas of his own theories of the loser class, Fiorentino even goes so far as to quote Veblen throughout his text, working one idea against another, and letting his own pieces play off the structure of the original theory (but is this theory, one might ask, or fact? Is Fiorentino exploring an idea or simply expounding on what he already knows?). Throughout the bulk of his writing thus far, skimming along the top of the poems like an insect on water, Fiorentino answers the question that perhaps only he has ever asked: where are the poems for those who never win? Where are the loser poems? Where are the poems for the kids who spend all day in their parents' basements playing video games, and clutching inhalers, waiting to get back out to the mall? Is this a redundancy for writer stereotypes, who almost as a unit never get the girl, the big prize, the big win? What is it Jon thinks of us, exactly? What does he continue to think of himself, failing by therefore achieving?

Right In The Spine

Crooning Gertrude Stein's songs
but sounding shallow, somehow

Arrived in style but
can't get off your bike

Time to slash prices
on the Paxil and shovels

I've listened intently (almost)
to the revisionist chorus:

If a loser falls
I feel it

And if a loser falls
I feel it (p 16)
Subtitled "a work in three parts," Fiorentino's The Theory of the Loser Class works in much the same way as his previous collections, writing the book as the unit of composition, but with the slight shift of the poems working more deliberately off each other and less on their own, working far more of the fragmented body toward the whole. Broken into three sections, "Loss Leaders," "Selected Lies" and "The Theory of the Loser Class," the poems work more abstract than his previous work, and play far more comfortably; still, this work very much fits into the mode of his previous collections, extending the themes of failure and geography, merging Winnipeg again with his systems of loss at the fore. In his semi-serious piece "The lowdown on the loser class" published in The Danforth Review, originally written as an introduction to Jon Paul Fiorentino's launch in Montreal at the Blue Metropolis Festival, Montreal poet Jason Camlot wrote:

Following his summation of Veblen's thinking as an amalgam of positivism and historical materialism, Theodor Adorno characterized Veblem's "basic experience…as that of pseudo-uniqueness" (78). That is, as a result of an early sensitivity to the false pretensions toward uniqueness inherent in the jargon of sales, Veblen came to see everything but what is sacred in his theory―the work instinct―as sham.

Unlike Veblen's theory, in Jon's work, nothing is sacred. Well, certainly not the "work instinct," in any case. I sincerely believe that Jon has evolved beyond "the work instinct." I believe, further, that this remarkable evolution beyond one archaic instinct has been accomplished by a heightening in him of several other instincts, these being the "Alpha Male Macho Hunter Instinct," the "Check Cell Phone for Text Messaging Instinct," the "Morrissey is Grand Instinct," and the "Death-ly Dissatisfied With Myself Instinct."
Camlot even points out the contradictory in Fiorentino's book, pointing out a quote from page 77 that writes, "No theory here." ("Premature Devout Observances"). I won't bother pointing out the obvious argument of the best way to teach; by suggesting you know absolutely nothing (it brings the listeners guard down). As in his previous works, Fiorentino is fond of the pop culture twists, as the last line in the poem references Star Wars, writing "these aren't the druids you're looking for" (p 84, "Spine"), or even in his most brilliant "Sonnet of R2-D2," writing a poem completely in the character's own "voice," including "Doop deep beewoo burrwaap vreet dooop" (p 26). Writing Gertrude Stein, David Letterman, Jerry Lewis, Winnipeg, video games, drugs and shopping malls, Fiorentino again works the loser/geek card, the socially inept and the self-loathing, the loser class, and the wry pessimism his work has become known for; will this be the only card he plays? Will there ever be anything more? Can we say that this is enough?
Reversion works this way:

a stubborn oeuvre
subsistence, only form

We deserve
get ready

Variation works this way:

Scoff but it will only swell
your well-intentioned couplet

Neighbourhood kids
get theirs

Industry works this way:

Shock treatment

I'm late
I'm late (p 74, "Premature Devout Observances")

What was it they said on the old Fat Albert show? If you're not careful, you just might learn something before we're through.

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