Performative melancholy

Resume Drowning

By Sonja A. Skarstedt

A review of Resume Drowning by Jon Paul Fiorentino

Published on October 1, 2002

Resume Drowning
Jon Paul Fiorentino

Broken Jaw Press
$15.95
paper
96pp
1-896647-94-4

Jon Paul Fiorentino crosses the threshold of despair and completely immerses both himself and the reader in a bleak, starved and desperate poetic wilderness. Here is a postmodern nuclear landscape of burned out longings, crushed ambitions, and flattened familial tensions. Of the two volumes, Transcona Fragments is the more intimate, drawing readers closer with its highly empathetic contours. The poems in Resume Drowning are led by a more distant observer: stripped of all sympathetic vestiges, they bare each scarred visage with a dogged resolution.

Fiorentino explains in his postscript to Resume Drowning that he is “engaging in performative melancholy and working in the tradition of the lyric.” However, this poet’s approach involves “drowning” in lieu of “hovering”;

at times I need to take a quick break from drowning
– I resurface, edit and muse, and then resume drowning.

In both volumes, words like “tether” and “fluorescence” and “valium” help fuel the whispering, restless rhythmic undercurrent that binds the disparate voices and memories along with the preponderance of darkened horizons. There is room for only one bittersweet longing in these quarters:

it is impossible not to be nostalgic
for the days of self-medication.

There is a prevalence of ghosts. References to Plath, Ginsberg, Sappho and other legendary poets are compared to fragmented razors blown helplessly into the narrator’s perception. These icons cannot offer any explanatory sustenance, only reminders that they too are victims of the same cold, grey-scoured reality; reminders of the hacked lives that somehow find the strength to remain breathing, crawling through the desolation of their bewilderment and long-spent anger:

the bipolar familial links that define and bind and whine
the inbuilt wilt.

Only a tarnished, muted acceptance remains:

and what is this elusive reflection
dancing along the tinted window
of the car that never leaves
its suburban cradle?

Pharmaceuticals play a crucial role in the truncated survival process of both the “I” and the others who inhabit his realm. Fiorentino explores the differences between societally-approved prescription drugs and self-medication:

which valium stream did I take?
which sleep did I sleep?
you don’t know.

Confusion adds to the everyday blur: “who knows if the pills will ever work/or ever did work.” In “Dopamine Song,” the poet recounts that all-too-brief release afforded by chemical interference:

dreams, cut the tether
split the skin just there and let
everything thrum within your pale body.

” In “Psychotropes” the reader is given a glimpse into the drug-free alternative:

you were waded through/this space called home
and you came across the razor
that lusted after your wrists.

There is more emphasis on exterior geography in Transcona Fragments, whose two brief sections of black and white photographs bring a fragile human resonance to the experience at hand. In “Prairie Long Poem” the author vents his full sarcastic wrath on those who might harbour any CanLit role-playing expectations: “write fragments. Not full sentences. But most of all disobey all instructions toward poetry.”

Fiorentino’s vision is a pared-down clarion-call of confrontation, a refusal to be swallowed by corporate and other lies. His voice mirrors today’s society as it scrabbles amid the ruins of 1950s suburban dreams, blindly tottering towards the Next Path. There is eloquence within these scathed rhythms of reality, the harsh claws of awareness and mangled chips of the past. Where one might least expect it, the poet interjects slices of passion:

out where the
winter steals
my oxygen
I buried you
reathless I married you
senseless.

mRb
Sonja A. Skarstedt is a Montreal poet and publisher.

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