Life in the Tall Towers Lost


Joe Fiorito’s All I Have Learned Is Where I Have Been (Véhicule Press) is at first glance a sequel to his 218 collection, City Poems. The main difference is that, while City Poems takes place in Toronto’s inner confines, All I Have Learned covers wider ground, from Etobicoke to Montreal and—in “Open Season” and “Woman Skinning Seal”—to the far reaches of Iqaluit. What is common to all of Fiorito’s poems is their description of life’s conditions on the edge. One of the women in “The Roma of Etobicoke” talks about her apartment, in sentences familiar to anyone living in the land of Single Room Occupancy: “…I taped my windowpane. / I flush with a bucket, / My door won’t close in / the winter. / I have no electricity / in my bedroom (laughs, / stops laughing.)” “The Statue of Bethune in November,” consisting of four minimal lines, brings Remembrance Day in downtown Montreal to life: “red poppies drip / from his stone hand / as if he’d cut himself / again.” A stanza from “Bus Trip” evokes specific memories for anyone who used to travel by Greyhound: “tobacco smoke; / a bus station mural, / Canada geese…” Rolling into Toronto, “Angel in a Shelter” makes visible a young woman in an unsafe and crowded environment: “My injection, twice a month; / Am I the only person in here who, / out of body, sees me?” In “Epitaph,” the author captures a visit to a friend in palliative care, now only a shadow of his larger-than-life, former self: “last snap: a cup of tea / a knitted cap, a pretty blanket, / hands in lap…” Reading the author’s notes at the end of this collection is well worth the time, as they provide insights into the succinct nature of these fine poems.

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Jill Mandrake writes strange but true stories and leads Sister DJ’s Radio Band, featuring rhythm and blues covers, post-vaudeville original tunes and occasional comedy bits.


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