The Next Chapter

How covering the city of Toronto as a columnist inspired Joe Fiorito's new poetry collection

The newspaper columnist discusses City Poems’s lyrical treatment of everyday life.
Joe Fiorito uses poetry to describe life on the margins in his collection, City Poems. (CBC)

As a longtime columnist for the Toronto Star, Joe Fiorito wrote about the people and parts of the city going through hard times. He wrote about the kind of hardship that is easier not to see or acknowledge. Fiorito has turned those columns into poems in his collection City Poems. It's a recasting and distillation of the stories he captured during his years as a chronicler of modern society.

Life on the edge

"These are short, sharp, hard city poems. In my newspaper work, you would consider my columns a window of life on the margins. What I've done in City Poems is taken that window and smashed it. The effect is like a piece of sunlight reflected off glass — it hits you in the eye, catches you and stops you. If you see the city as a series of images as you make your way through it, those things that stick in the mind wind up in my poems. I've always been interested in what life is like on the edge than what it's like in the centre or at the top."

Lyrical inspiration

"The people we ignore are us. I think we can learn about ourselves as we learn about them. While I was writing the newspaper column, I had that field entirely to myself because nobody was doing it. I'm continuing in that vein because I think a poetic examination of the margins is as important to literature as anything else." 

Facing facts

"Everything in City Poems is based on people I know — I know people who have died, I know people whose lives have been broken. I think we have to acknowledge and not walk away from that. I like the fact that the collection is grounded in absolute reality. I'm not one of those guys who can make stuff up. What I can do is take things that I know for a fact and present them in a way that allows you to learn something from them. Maybe what you read is different from what I read when I look at these things, and that's as it should be — there should be layers of meaning."

Joe Fiorito's comments have been edited and condensed.