Sunday, December 9, 2007

12 or 20 questions: with Jon Paul Fiorentino

Jon Paul Fiorentino's most recent book of poetry is The Theory of the Loser Class (Coach House Books, 2006). He is the author of the poetry book Hello Serotonin (Coach House Books, 2004) and the humour book Asthmatica (Insomniac Press, 2005). He has recently completed his first novel, Stripmalling. He lives in Montreal where he teaches writing at Concordia University and is the Editor of Matrix and Snare Books.

1 - How did your first book change your life?

Well, I guess I felt somewhat respectable when it was published. My first trade book was Transcona Fragments. I was lucky enough to have Clive Holden as an editor and a publisher. He was kind and thoughtful about every aspect of making that book. I was shocked to find out that the book meant something to people. And even more shocked to find out that it got shortlisted for the Carol Shields Award. I look at the book today, and I know there are poems I would not write today, but I remain so very proud of that book. The whole process gave me a sense of permission to go further with my practice and to grow as a poet.

2 - How long have you lived in Montreal, and how does geography, if at all,impact on your writing? Does race or gender make any impact on your work?

Montreal has been home for 7-8 years. I went back to Winnipeg in 2003 to teach at the University of Winnipeg. Right now I am living in Montreal and dying in Winnipeg. The anxiety of geography is one of the major themes of my work. I am heavily influenced by writers who deal with race and gender. I have always had an affection for the work of Nicole Brossard, for instance. Gender is of particular interest to me. The anxieties of geography, gender...

3 - Where does a poem or piece of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

I'm not always working on a "book" but I am always working from a title. A kind of condensed, ideal version of what the poem or story should be. I don't think contemporary writers pay enough attention to their titles. Canadian writing is flooded with remarkably bad titles: The Impossible Weight of Bees. Stuff like that.

4 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process?

Some times you have to sound out a poem in front of people. But I am no performer. People sometimes mistake me for a performer but that's because my nervous energy can sometimes work to my advantage. Honestly, the stress of being in front of people can be a little overwhelming. But you kind of have to suck it up and do it anyways, right? For the work.

5 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

Of course I have theoretical concerns behind my writing. I have questions regarding genre and the professionalization of writing. I have other questions regarding the expectations of linear narrative and the drive toward the emblem in poetry. I am suspicious of the "craft-heavy" type of writing. Which isn't to say I don't have formal concerns. I like to catch myself in those moments when I rely on the more conventional tricks. And that's when I get self-injurious. The most important questions I can think of right now are: 1) Is 3 pm too late to wake up? 2) Is 3:30pm too early to start drinking hard liquor?

6 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

Absolutely essential. It's only difficult to those who are too precious about their work. Of course, I have had amazing editors in my life. They know who they are,

7 - After having published more than a couple of titles over the years, do you find the process of book-making harder or easier?

It's always the same ghastly experience.

8 - When was the last time you ate a pear?

I don't believe in eating pears. I don't believe in imagery.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

"Jon Paul, get over yourself. You're not that special. And don't forget: you owe me fifty dollars, you stupid mook."-- My mother, 2007

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?

Fairly easy because there are things I save for my fiction, like lame jokes, and there are things I save for my poetry, like prairie angst.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

I write late at night and when people start their daily trudge toward their work, it puts me to sleep. I wake up in the afternoon and read and go to the Matrix office and drink a diet Red Bull and work on Matrix and Snare.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

I'm fine. Don't worry about me.

13 - How does your most recent book compare to your previous work? How does it feel different?

My most recent book is a completed novel manuscript called Stripmalling. It's a comedic romp through the life of a young man named Jonny, who sells drugs to kids in a strip mall in WInnipeg, and then grows up to be a man and gets a job as a university professor who sells drugs to kids. It's the typical Canadian prairie narrative and it's exactly like all my other books.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

I love that McFadden quote. I think books come from nature books, music books, science books, visual art books...I am influenced by the perfect pop song. Like "Beat on the Brat" by the Ramones. That's not a joke, but no doubt people will assume it is...

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

Make someone like me.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be?

Laundromat attendant.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

I don't know, rob. I used to go to McNally-Robinson in Winnipeg when I was a kid and look at all the poetry books and fantasize about a life as a poet. I know that seems sad, but it's absolutely true. And I suppose I have always wanted to be a writer. And I suppose my absolute inability to do anything else well sealed the deal. I remember walking into the Zellers staff room when I worked there (I was around 17) and people were talking about me and how I was not good at my job and how I would never "make it." And I was hurt. And then I asked myself, who the hell wants to "make it" in the world of Zellers anyway? From that moment, I promised myself I would waste time trying to thrive in someone else's world. It's kind of lame, but it was important to me.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

I loved Maya Merrick's new book, The Hole Show. I don't really watch many movies these days.

20 - What are you currently working on?

Thriving in my own world.

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