carte blanche’s Greg Santos interviewed David McGimpsey by email in November 2012.
cb: Your latest collection, Li’l Bastard (Coach House Books, 2012), is made up of 16-line sonnets that you’ve dubbed “chubby sonnets.” Could you please explain the impetus behind these poems? Why choose sonnets and why sixteen lines?
McGimpsey: Since my first collection I’ve fooled around with a 16-line sonnet, where I’ve worked to develop the rhetoric of a recognizable character-speaker for my poems. I have long been interested in the stability of formal boundary around a most unruly citizen. But, I didn’t want to play a game about the preciousness of “sonnets”—particularly the sonnet’s unique role in suggesting class-authority to the sad sacks who write them. I was (and remain) interested in the tight iteration implied by the sonnet’s compositional strategy (I became hardwired to it when I was young, loving Wyatt and Shakespeare and Sidney’s 14 liners) but I particularly like how one poem’s recapitulating formal restraint exists in sequences that have a narratological, obsessive feel. The poems are momentary puzzles but the sequence contains a wide variety of commentary about life, death, love, and Beyonce.
When I read L’il Bastard, I couldn’t help thinking of John Berryman’s The Dream Songs. Your “David McGimpsey” speaker reminds me of Berryman’s middle-aged, self-conscious, and complex anti-hero, “Henry.” Was Berryman a big influence on your writing? Who are some other poetic influences and inspirations?
The composition of the book is directly meant to be a homage to both Berryman’s Dream Songs and Lowell’s History which I adored when I was younger. Both those books are, essentially, modern American sonnet sequences, conservatively aware of their literary pedigree. I still do love them but, returning to some of the thinking behind Li’l Bastard (where age meets up with immaturity), I wanted to echo the work of writers that meant the most to me when I was 21.
Li’l Bastard (Coach House Books, 2012) was nominated for the Governor General’s Award in Poetry for 2012. What was your reaction when you first heard the news?
I thought, “wow, cool” and my first reaction was to phone my sister Janice whose always been amazingly supportive of me throughout my career. But I don’t set much by awards and I take nothing (not even the slightest kind word) for granted.
Who and what are some of your non-poetic inspirations?
Every aspect of life is “poetic”. Each day wasted to Facebook, each sip of Starbucks, each trip to Wilkes-Barre-Scranton. But, the cultural things that are not poetry which inform my poetry are, in order, literature that is not poetry (fiction, history, etc etc), music, art, television, movies, the internet, texting, sports, tourism, politics, dining, and shopping. The artists who are not poets who have influenced my work the most are Alice Cooper and David Letterman.
Besides being a poet, you are a man of many “toques.” Stand-up comedian, travel writer, front man for the rock band Puggy Hammer, university professor at Concordia University, fiction editor for the Punchy Writers Series through DC Books and an editor for Joyland. Am I missing anything? How do these other occupations inform your writing, if at all?
Nobody ever talks about my beekeeping. Doing stand-up helped me think about the process of writing jokes (not references but jokes) and making them funny—crafting jokes to where they consistently elicit laughter when they’re supposed to. Music, I dunno, I hope, keeps my ear alive and can help gut-feel a catchy line, but these things are also a lot of fun, you know, and not quite the career beanies suggested. I suppose teaching, editing, and working as a journalist all, I hope, contribute to my sense of professionalism in the society where poetry is produced. I like to work hard at it all but honestly I never really think of being a poet or teacher or journalist in an ontological fashion. They are not roles I’m trying play. One doesn’t “have” to write poetry in the same way one has to pay a credit card bill. Getting to write poetry as an adult out-of-college is a luxury. I’m content with the one toque over my one head and it has the logo for the NY Giants on it and it keeps my head warm.
You are a pretty avid Tumblr poster and tweeter. You are also an editor for Joyland, which is predominately an online magazine. What are your thoughts on how the internet has changed poetry and the literary arts?
Being on Tumblr and Twitter are not esoteric and they too are self-evidently fun and rewarding things to do. In terms of the publishing industry, the internet has profoundly altered the relationship of literary consumer to literary product. I feel lucky to have come through that time of bookstores and SASE submissions to magazines. I imagine, these things will soon seem like the once-pleasing sound of the blacksmith’s hammer pealing through the glen. No looking back, really, no fear for what’s to come (“literature” has been under culture siege since the day it was conceived of as “literature”) but it will be different.
What is it about the poetry genre that keeps you coming back for more?
That makes poetry sound like an abusive spouse. “I have to go back! Poetry needs me and nobody else needs me!” What other reason? Because I love it.
Are you currently working on anything? What’s next for David McGimpsey?
I’m working on some songs. I just wrote one called “Army of Giant Scorpions”. It’s going to be a huge hit!