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Indexical Elegies

I adore Coach House Books. The book design is smart, inventive, spot on. Poetry is clever, original, risky, inspiring. You want to go back to these books again and see them as if new each time you pick them up. You’re happy to give them to others, to show them off. You return to them as, and I am not exaggerating, a reason to keep going on. And on. A reason to read. A reason to write. A reason to believe in poetry. Even, maybe especially, when they are difficult (emotionally or intellectually or in a reader-ly way).

I adore Coach House Books. The book design is smart, inventive, spot on. Poetry is clever, original, risky, inspiring. You want to go back to these books again and see them as if new each time you pick them up. You’re happy to give them to others, to show them off. You return to them as, and I am not exaggerating, a reason to keep going on. And on. A reason to read. A reason to write. A reason to believe in poetry. Even, maybe especially, when they are difficult (emotionally or intellectually or in a reader-ly way).

This is a quintessential Coach House book. The cover design, a traditional library index card, couldn’t be more appropriate, or more expertly presented. It’s genius. Fiorentino’s work embodies the indexical elegy construct, a series of elegies, of indexical representations, of elegies elevated to indexical elements and indexical elements presented as elegiac components. The work elevates the ordinary and make accessible the lyrical in short, urgent poems that avoid the sentimental (in true Coach House fashion), yet remain powerfully emotional. Fiorentino is a model poet of the moment, reminding us that the present times are difficult and unwieldy, yet reigning in any hysteria (however justified it might in such times) with his own brand of linguistic and emotional restraint. Here is an excerpt from “Self-Storage,” but any number of other quotations would be equally appropriate:

Laminated name tags everywhere
    shelf space for the wicked timid

Bottles tremble in November treble
    everyone dying or leaving or straying

As these brief lines demonstrate, Fiorentino cares about sound and knows how to exploit its virtues. He has a keen sense of rhythm, pace, timing; is adept at breaking a line at just the right breaking point, and at breaking me down (in the best poetic way) emotionally by saying just enough.

The book as an “index” is broken down into several sections with integrity as discrete series of poems, yet without a table of contents: Elizabeth Conway (A Montreal Suite); Indexical Elegies; and Transprairie (A Post-Prairie Suite). There are pithy, economically crafted revelations in each of these sections.

From the “Montreal Suite,” here is an excerpt from “Hysterical Narrative”:

Shouldn’t think so
I’ve been so thoughtless

Mispronounce hegemony
that’s nothing

Announce too candidly
my candidacy

Something I hardly know
protects me being happy

Here is one from “Indexical Elegies”:

Composed in 1946
Compost in 4/4/time

Then
Composed –
a new verb
wicked and defiant

Missing you

Send in the nouns

And finally, an excerpt from the final section, “Dying in Winnipeg,”

Don’t’ read me wrong –
I plan on dying in Winnipeg.

In a strange way I
believe Winnipeg is where everything always dies.

Impossible not to hear the echo of César Vallejo here, intentional or coincidental. Impossible not to hope that Fiorentino will avoid Winnipeg, that he will live—and keep writing—forever.

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