Five Questions for Joe Fiorito
Distinguished Journalist Publishes a New Poetry Collection
By Michael Sobota
Born and raised on Thunder Bay’s south side, Joe Fiorito now calls Toronto home, and has had a distinguished career as a journalist for several national media outlets. Fiorito has also published a number of books, including his nationally bestselling 1999 memoir about his dad, family, and growing up in Fort William, The Closer We Are to Dying. Fiorito’s most recent book is his third volume of poetry, titled Quicker Than The Eye. Here are five questions with Joe Fiorito. The Walleye: You have written or co-written or edited a dozen books. You’ve worked for the CBC in the high Arctic and as a journalist for the Montreal Gazette, the National Post, the Globe & Mail, and the Toronto Star. My first encounter with your writing was poems contributed to the Lakehead University literary magazine when you were a young man. What has been the role of poetry throughout your writing life? Joe Fiorito: I started as a poet and turned to journalism because the wages of poetry are slim. As a newspaper columnist, however, I had free rein to use all the tools of literature when I wrote, in a way that no one else was doing. Now that I’ve retired, I have returned to poetry, but I like to think I never left it. TW: When you are writing poetry, who are you writing to? JF: When I write, I have no one in mind except the people who let me listen to what they had to say. I’m one of those who thinks poetry ought to be not always popular, but always accessible in some way. TW: Your newest volume of poetry, Quicker Than The Eye, contains some 60 poems. What is their gestation? Do you do extensive revisions or any revisions at all? JF: Some of the poems in Quicker have their origins in my childhood; others are so new they are still hot in my hand. I tend to work from my notebooks, of which I have hundreds. I also have a bank of images in my head, and they are as vivid as photos; if an image sticks with me, it eventually becomes a poem. Along the way, I rewrite heavily. I write until there is no other way to say what I mean. But I’m always a bit unsatisfied—I’d like to write everything I’ve written all over again. TW: Fort William and Northwestern Ontario are present or referenced in your current work. Tell us about this influence. JF: I had a tricky, complicated childhood growing up in the west end of Fort William. I relied on the look of the mountain, the lake, and the sky for certainty; all those blues are true. I’d say northern Ontario is where I first learned to see. But the north is also where I learned that everything is deeper and darker than it appears on the surface. That sense of the deeper levels remains, and that is the lingering influence of home. TW: Quicker Than The Eye is your third published volume of poetry. You have written a novel, a memoir, and collections of your writing from your time in the Arctic, in Montreal, and in Toronto. Do you have a favourite book amongst your published works? JF: I don’t have a favourite among my books, but I do have a deep affection for the three collections of poetry. I think I have more in me. I hear them asking to be the favourite.