David McGimpsey: Three new poems

Montreal writer and musician David McGimpsey has been the author, for about 20 years now, of what he calls “chubby sonnets,” each sonnet consisting of sixteen metred lines instead of the usual fourteen. The author of a critical study on baseball writing and a collection of short stories as well as five poetry collections — Lardcake (ECW Press, 1996), Dogboy (ECW Press, 1998), Hamburger Valley, California (ECW Press, 2001), Sitcom (Coach House Books, 2007) and L’il Bastard (Coach House Books, 2011) — McGimpsey adheres to pop culture with the same devotion and knowledge he brings to the traditions of the sonnet, two flavours not usually bound together, and wrapped with such a serious intent around humour, nationalism and class. McGimpsey’s poems are meticulously carved and delightfully subversive explorations and twisting of traditional poetic forms, and the formal, rhythmic edge allow a number of his poems to also exist as song lyrics for his rock band, Puggy Hammer. Canadian critic Courtney Richardson’s essay, “CanLit™: National Branding and Canadian Literary Identity in David McGimpsey’s Poetics” from Alessandro Porco’s anthology Population Me: Essays on David McGimpsey (Palimpsest Press, 2010) ends with this striking paragraph:

            Implicit in this response is the absurdity of the assumption that if you are critical of your country or of the writing its cultural infrastructure produces then you must be a self-loathing Canadian. The rebuttal of McGimpsey’s poetry to such an assumption is that there are political and commercial forces behind the propagation of a falsely singular and homogenous idea of what it means to be Canadian and to live in Canada. For McGimpsey, the desire to dismiss the powerful influence of American mass commodity culture on the lives of Canadians is a sign of self-delusion, at best, and disingenuousness, at worst. In exposing the branding and marketing strategy which fuels the entwined relationship between Canadian writing and national identity, McGimpsey demonstrates the extent to which commercial culture is entrenched in even the most seemingly patriotic of endeavours. McGimpsey’s poetry alerts and invites the reader to look beyond the so-called CanLit brand for a more accurate Canadian perspective, which like it or not, is heavily influenced by American culture. If McGimpsey is not worried about being called a “Bad Anglo” for voicing unpopular opinions regarding Montreal language politics, he is perhaps even less concerned about being known as Canadian poetry’s “Bad Canadian.”

Given the cultural explorations and critiques throughout McGimpsey’s poetry, one might say that cultural snobbery is the biggest reason his work hasn’t received wider acclaim (or at least why so many reviews begin with the reviewer proudly bellowing some point of taste like “I don’t even own a TV!”). Not that McGimpsey is shy about taking the fight back. Sometimes his titles alone are enough to strike. Consider, for example, this poem title that appeared in the recent 100th anniversary issue of Montreal literary journal Matrix, which includes his “We should all thank Taylor Swift for taking on what poets so often vaingloriously try (and fail) to express and how she, rather than being intimidated by such endeavour, gives appropriate expression to the most motivating human sentiments and puts it all into catchy, heartfelt songs.” However catchy and heartfelt, however funny and full of mentions of a TS that’s not Eliot, McGimpsey’s work is always dead serious poetry.

His sixth poetry collection, Asbestos Heights (Coach House Books), will be released this spring.


Song for a house arrest.

This is the ankle bracelet, John Keats,
that beeps whenever you go to Wendy's.
This is the barrel of onion soup mix
they give you for calling yourself trash.

Which character will you relate to now?
Which literary character will it be?
The Elvis character in Roustabout
or the Elvis character in Tickle Me?

This is no lights after curfew, Rimbaud.
This is to hell with a once-cherished cause.
Very few walk up to the guillotine
still shouting "Vive la revolution!"

Which character will you relate to now?
Which literary character will it be?
The Elvis character in Kissin' Cousins
or the Elvis character in Blue Hawaii?


There's no official bird of Canada but if there was it would be a bird that could write letters to the editor about how it thinks pelicans are fat.

There were Elizabeth Bishop buttercups
and a few Elizabeth Bishop daisies.
There was Donk's "The Otter's Deposition"
and Fatchett's "Sestina for a Tendril".

Most poems were Toronto apartments,
though, and the trope of Winnipeg snows
were rare as a Leonard Cohen sighting
outside of Les Bobards in the Plateau.

19th Century American Lit
is much more awkward in nation-building
gestures as it didn't have the example
of 20th Century America.

Canada had fuckable trees, spruce and larch,
but it also had baseball and ketchup hearts.
Our Prime Ministers looked at all the birds,
grateful every one was not a poem.


Our Parnassus will go on.

The great poets are always decisive.
When Sylvia Plath went for chicken wings,
she never had to think twice about whether
to order them Mild, Hot or Suicide.

When Edward "Ted" Hughes would buy summer shorts
he could hear the the hair on his legs touch
and the hairs would sing MMMBop in Welsh.
Such are the legs of Legsy the Poet.

But hey, leg up, when the editor lags:
“We’re not looking for work but for content
just a thing that frames pictures of Yaddo,
a thing that says ‘I don’t rent tuxedos!”

When the great poets think upon the sun
they must surely think of Mister Drummond,
dropping to one knee, outstretching his arms,
as if anything was possible with love.