David McGimpsey lives in Montréal and is the author of five collections of poetry including the recent Li'l Bastard (Coach House Books, 2012) which was named as one of the “books of the year” by both The Quill and Quire and The National Post and has been nominated for the Governor General’s Award in Poetry for 2012. He is a contributing editor at EnRoute magazine, where he writes about sandwiches and travel and he plays guitar and sings in the rock band, Puggy Hammer. He was named by the CBC as one of the “Top Ten English language poets in Canada” and his work was also the subject of the recent book of essays Population Me: Essays on David McGimpsey (Palimpsest Press, 2010). He teaches creative writing and literature at Concordia University.
For more information, visit David McGimpsey at his tumblr page.
The following sonnets are from Li’l Bastard:
Speaking of stealing cars and running them off into the
quarry to collect the insurance money, I ran into your
father. Your real father.
It’s so embarrassing, the cutesy pet names
adult lovers adopt. I called her ‘pookie’ and ‘snook’
and she called me ‘horseface’ and ‘the human wallet.’
Oh, snook, we bought so much lawn furniture!
Then, making my plans to move down south,
I stopped stooping from the weight of that shame.
I sold my hockey cards. Even Bobby Orr.
I sold my woodcarvings. Even Bobby Orr.
Yes, money poured in like gravy at the wrap
party for The Biggest Loser. I thought
a red truck and a beagle named Steve
were all any sensible Texan would need.
I asked her, ‘Am I being vain or stupid?’
‘Sweetie, it’s like when you asked if I found you
ugly on the outside or on the inside -
it really isn’t an either/or situation.’
Tonight’s Episode: The Insomniac Strikes A-kilter.
In the middle of the night, a mousetrap went off.
I didn’t want to check it out. Hopefully
the little bugger escaped and is sitting
under the floorboards, smoking Marlboros.
When I was fifteen I was arrested
for smuggling heroin into small towns.
Seemed strange I was haunted by crafty mice
and a girl who once left me alone in a bar.
I called up Jedediah and told him to take
my cases tomorrow. ‘Are you okay,
Uncle Barnaby?’ he asked with concern.
I wanted to confess I was waiting for death.
Instead, I reminded him Kate Hudson
is also a world-renowned pastry chef.
‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Jed.’
Eyes and ears, ears and eyes. Everything goes.
Song after Verlaine.
The piano I bashed in your rec room
until it couldn’t make a tin can’s sound,
pre-dawn, early March, will never be fixed.
‘This song is for all my obviousness!’
Then came the vodka and Diet Sprite drinks
and riding the sofa’s wave just like Duke
Kahanamoku. I worked at Quiznos -
why did you still tickle the ivory?
Why ‘Piano Man’ and the hard clang
of tourist change? I had crazy hair then.
What did you want besides crazy hair
and a guy who set fire to cop cars?
The piano I bashed in your rec room,
as you cried along to its last harmonies.
Without an axe, without a baseball bat,
as I sang, ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame.’
Jesus loves you, but doesn’t love-love you; I mean He
thinks you’re okay but He’s going through some things
now and is not interested in something more meaningful.
I am waiting for a Dodge Caravan,
much like I am waiting for Jesus Christ
to smite all those smug Boston Red Sox fans.
I wait and mouth the word ‘bituminous.’
I tried to live the code of The Doctrine once
but ended up sending unwise tweets
to a book clubber in Des Moines who called
her favourite white horse ‘Raymond Carver.’
She reminded me of my best self,
she reminded me to return phone calls.
She reminded me it’s not really Italian
when I say, ‘secreto stasho di porno.’
By the doughnut stand in Versailles,
taking out lemon-powdered day-olds,
I cursed God for not giving me fashion sense
but praised him for the taste of Diet Coke.
TTQ – What attracted you to poetry in the first place and what made you decide to try your hand at writing the stuff?
David McGimpsey – I started writing poetry (sort of) in high school. I was the kind of kid who was easily bored in school. I remember looking out classroom windows, out towards the highway, dreaming of the trouble I'd cause when school was out, and writing poems (or what I thought poems were) in my notebook instead of what I was supposed to be doing. I was a delinquent but I was a pretty creative kid - I had strong interests in playing music and drawing. In grade school, I used to make my own comic book called Fat Boy and Lizard Man. One issue of Fat Boy and Lizard Man was the first creative thing I ever did that made my father laugh out loud. When I went to college I started to focus on poetry. I was really captivated by writers like Berryman, Lowell, Ginsberg, Snyder and Plath. By then, it was too late. Sorry for all those submissions, Fiddlehead.
TTQ – Do you enjoy writing poetry the most or is there another genre of writing you enjoy more?
David McGimpsey – Writing songs gives me the most pleasure just because it is so much fun to play and sing, writing poetry gives me the most satisfaction insofar as I have more experience in the genre so I feel that's what I'm best at, and writing prose gives me the nicest cheques and the biggest chance to have somebody say "Oh, hey, I read that thing you wrote about tacos!"
TTQ – What was it like growing up in Montréal in terms of helping you learn your craft as a writer/poet?
David McGimpsey – I’m not one to argue that cities (particularly ones in mobile, liberal democracies) inform literary destiny or tone (a writer from London is really at no advantage over a writer from St. Louis) but I do love Montréal. I grew up as an Anglophone in the east end of the city (far from the traditional west island experiences of Anglo Montréalers) and I feel I was afforded quite a wonderfully removed sense of wonder with culture as a whole. It was the 70’s in Ville D'Anjou and it seemed like cool things were sprouting up everywhere. It was also, in time, the era of the great Anglo exodus from Montréal where friends and families were relocating to Alberta and Ontario. That shaped my perception of Montréal and maybe gave me some sense of its continuous similarity between, say, Toronto and Cleveland. I love that Montréal very much - perhaps more so than the back-formed, reified version of the city that imagines it as Paris or Berlin. As such, I never felt limited by region - though, that might have been different if Montréal did not have quality English language Universities.
TTQ – Your latest collection of poetry Li'l Bastard (Coach House Books, 2012) takes the reader on a wild ride through many different cities across North America referencing baseball, beer and Barnaby Jones. Would it be safe to assume that Li'l Bastard documents a crossroads in your life or a sort of midlife crisis you were trying to escape from?
David McGimpsy – I don't think that would be a really safe assumption but like other unsafe assumptions - "this wire goes in here, right?' - it's not without its explosive charms. However, the narrator of these poems is not me, even if his name is "Dave McGimpsey". Much in the same way "Louie C.K." the character in Louie is not actually Louie C.K., the comedian. So the character of Li'l Bastard certainly observes life in a manner that I recognize as part of my own response, he his an amplified version, then a muted version, he is less connected to place, less likely to spend afternoon after afternoon grading papers, less confident, far more isolated and much funnier. The narrative of escape, of course, dominates the thematic organization of the book - unlike the character of an affirmative novel, this character discovers nothing much changes in life even if you want it to change because we are all limited by the body. Death comes whether you want it to or not.
TTQ – Would there be one significant experience or event that you consider life-changing in any way that occurred during the time you were writing Li'l Bastard?
David McGimpsey – During the time I was writing Li'l Bastard, my mother passed away. I grew up in a working class environment where people were encouraged to learn things not just because it would lead to a "career" but because it was fun and good for you. My mother was always proud of my smallest achievements (she'd be overjoyed if I was on local radio for two minutes to talk about the Expos), remained tough and in good humor throughout life which had its share of great tragedy. Though the book has expressions that come from my own grief for the loss of her, I'd actually like to think the indomitable spirit of wisecracking in Li'l Bastard is my tribute.
TTQ – What made you decide to write the entire book as a series of sonnets? Is form all that important to you?
David McGimpsey – I’ve always written sonnets. Sonnets and other fixed, sequential forms are helpful when you are possessed of many thoughts but are too high on them to give them shape and identity. The very first publication I had (in a small literary journal associated with McGill called Rubicon) were part of a sequence called "batman sonnets". Since my first book Lardcake I've always fooled around with a 16 line sonnet that I called a "chubby sonnet" and that this book would be all in that form is really, where it all begins. I'm interested in the relationship of form to sequence; how episodes create plot arcs (as in TV shows) but how narrative expectations are thwarted by character limits (as in a TV series where, say, if the boys in Big Bang Theory all decided to stop being nerds there would be no Big Bang Theory).
TTQ – Li’l Bastard has been nominated for the Governor General's Award in Poetry for 2012. What would winning that award or any award for that matter mean to you personally?
David McGimpsey – In the summer 2008, I was named the "client of the week" at a Starbucks on the corner of Crescent and Ste. Catherine. For one magical week, I could see my name on the chalkboard sign and I got one free coffee every day that week. As glorious as that was, being nominated for a GG felt even better. I don't put great store by awards, mind you - and I've seen the adorable little Macbeths that do - but one thing is very nice is getting a pat on the back from those who've read my writing and have supported it for a long time. I'm glad when their faith gets any public expression of confidence and I'm aware it's an incredible honour and it does not happen all the time.
TTQ – Do you think poetry is currently going through some kind of resurgence these days or is it still pretty much ignored by the masses?
David McGimpsey – Poetry, as a material commodity, is not meant for mass consumption. If there was poetry admired by the masses, it would quickly not be considered "poetry" by the elite institutions which structure meaning around the idea of poetry. Poetry is certainly going through a boon as a hobby and as cherished practice. I imagine the institutional support of MFA programs everywhere allows and fosters that affection among thousands. It has created a different marketplace over time, I think, and one where the reading of poetry is not structured into the meaning of "poetry". As such, "poetry" exists more as a social ideology to support the middle class. Facebook and Twitter are compelling recruitment tools and have brought focus and cohesion to the world of poetry in ways which once seemed utterly impossible. I'm not shaking my cane at the "kids of today" for not knowing who Ed Dorn or whoever is (who cares?), but saying the market is now centred around the function of creative writing as a social force rather than reading actual books of poetry.
TTQ – What are your three most favourite books of 2012 that you have read and why?
David McGimpsey – Michael Robbins' Alien vs. Predator, which pushes at poetry in a way that I greatly admire; Michel Nareau's Double Jeu: Baseball et Litteratures Americaines, for its sophisticated analysis of a topic that has long fascinated me; Lynn Crosbie's Life is About Losing Everything because I love Lynn Crosbie and love this hilarious and heartbreaking book.
TTQ – Do you consider yourself more passionate about your writing or playing music and are there enough hours in the day to do both?
David McGimpsey – There aren't enough hours in the day at all. That is a frustrating fact of life. I am more passionate about my writing, I think. I practice more at it - if that's an indicator of passion. Of course, I'm more passionate about the passions in my life that are not material objects (like poems or songs).
TTQ – How long have you been teaching creative writing and literature, and how inspired are you about the next generation of writers coming up through the ranks? Should readers be excited or worried?
David McGimpsey – About 12 years now. The pedagogy of creative writing has grown so much, creative writing students are way more advanced now than they were in my time. I'm positive they'll do more with it than we did.
TTQ – What’s next for David McGimpsey?
David McGimpsey – I just wrote a song called "Truck Bar" which is about a truck that is also a bar. It's going to be a huge hit!