Hello Serotonin, by Jon Paul Fiorentino, 2004. Coach House Books. ISBN: 1-55245-136-4 Price: CDN $ 16.95
Reviewed by Jesse P. Ferguson for Bywords, June 2005.
From the author of transcona fragments and resume drowning, comes Hello Serotonin. This is Jon Paul Fiorentino’s most recent book of poems, and his M.A. thesis from Concordia University.
This collection is a bottle of poetic stimulants amidst a sea of Canpoetry barbiturates. Here, Fiorentino has crafted a witty, often delightfully sardonic collection.
Hello Serotonin is distinctive in its reclaiming of the language of science for poetry. This move is not without its precedents (think Tennyson’s “In Memoriam”) but Fiorentino takes the move into the twenty-first century, grappling with it, making it his own. Terse pieces, like “Dopamine Song,” speak to the surrealism of even the mundane when we experience life on medication:
Let every neuron
fire and misfire.
Underdress with a tourniquet.
Slam your way into sleep.
Many of the most memorable pieces in this collection succeed in bringing the reader into the claustrophobic world of the heavily medicated, into the emotional fluctuations of those whom medicine labels “unbalanced.”
Some poems, however, particularly in the section subtitled “Neurotransmissions,” take the scientific language too far for the average reader to follow. Poems, like “Let’s Hear it for Hydroxythryptamine!” choke on an overabundance of medical jargon, such as: “serotonergic agents,” “cholinergic neurons,” “parysympathomimesis” and “platonic agonists.” Diction like this is difficult enough even to pronounce, let alone comprehend, and for the average reader these mammoth terms serve only to frustrate. Much more successful (and numerous) are Fiorentino’s poems in which the scientific terminology is less ostentatious.
The other sections of the book deal less in the scientific and more in the personal lyric, but nearly all the poems allude to the paranoia and surrealism of an over-medicated culture. Even those readers who have never taken mood altering drugs (prescription or recreational) will recognize in Fiorentino’s vacillation between sardonic wit and paralysis a senitivity to the tonic chord of our age.