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Book Reviews

Hello Serotonin

by Jon Paul Fiorentino

Widely prescribed drugs whose names blend the promise of comfort with cold, technological efficiency – Zoloft, Paxil, Xanax – are even now resculpting the contemporary mindscape. All of this offers promising terrain for Hello Serotonin, Jon Paul Fiorentino’s third book of poetry.

Coach House Books may claim in its catalogue that Fiorentino’s verse actually “performs the very nature of neural activity,” but this isn’t something poets are likely to get around to before even the neurobiologists have it fully mapped out. Fiorentino does make playful use of newly familiar, seductive pharmaceutical polysyllables. “Astrocytes feed neurons/ talk metatrophic trash to axon and dendrite” and so forth.

Almost all of these poems could do much more with their highly charged and topical material. Yet in places Fiorentino strikes notes of chilling freshness by linking drugs, synaptic networks, and the other webs that bind and enable us: “cold like an octave drop, relentless like the dial tone.”

“Homecallings,” the book’s second part, revisits Winnipeg’s “derailed” suburb of Transcona, territory Fiorentino explored in his 2002 book Transcona Fragments. In the “Homecallings” poems, railway switching yards “glimpsed in drips” also echo neural networks. But here, mind-alteration takes an off-brand form. Solvents, mescalin, and LSD help the trapped descendants of fur-trappers contend with psychic undertow along the Red River’s banks. The “mythic howl, scripted bitch, bitter tripe” of these poems offers convincing, energetic lyrics on the scrappy neglected fringes of urban Canada.