Li'l Bastard: Montreal Poetry on the Move
There was a point while reading Li'l Bastard, a new collection of 'chubby sonnets' by Montreal poet David McGimpsey, that my sad English majors's brain kept flashing the age-old favourite phrase 'form informs content'. Although I've often relied on that phrase to save my ass during lacklustre moments of essay writing, I thought I'd left it behind in Concordia classrooms.
However, McGimpsey's coined form, the 'chubby sonnet' with its sixteen lines and often complete disregard for the classic ten-feet-per-line meter reflects perfectly the culture of excess and mass-consumerism that is being written about.
As these 'road poems' burst at the seams with fast-paced pop culture in a traditional form that can barely contain these contemporary ideas, we get an inspired and inspiring point of view that is at once hilarious, ridiculous, pathetic and deeply poetic.
The aging speaker of this collection leaves his teaching job in Montreal to travel across the United-States in search of... well I guess we actually don't know. The only certainty is that it is buried amidst cans of Fresca from truck stops at 4am and delusions set in the 1970's cop show Barnaby Jones, watched in seedy highway motels.
Here, tradition crumbles and is rebuilt with the fuel of the American dream. Pastoral poems that once boasted endless green pastures have been replaced by wastelands full of what makes America oh-so-grand.
In the collection's first section, the titles are long and entertaining, If Jesus drove a dependable family-sized recreational vehicle, He would drive a Dodge Caravan being a great example. However, what is seemingly nonsensical and ridiculous becomes a recurring symbol throughout the speaker's travels as the Dodge Caravan shows up in moments when escaping his life just isn't quite working. An empty, branded vehicle that may or may not contain Jesus. Now there is something for a symbol-hungry English major to sink her teeth into.
McGimpsey does an amazing job of aggrandizing the rapid and vapid consumer culture that populates his stanzas while reducing centuries of American tradition to the watered-down and diminutive stand-ins we are all familiar with. Taylor Swift has become Nashville and Jesus can be found in a Dodge Caravan at a late-night drive thru.
In McGimpsey's world sensationalism is knowledge, all we know about Emily Dickinson is that she loved terry cloth, and the figures of the canon of literature are masterfully left to wander through the suffocating bulk of our culture. The innovative ridiculousness of so much of this collection only serves to make its moments of profound beauty all the deeper.
Although the speaker leaves Montreal yearning for the road and claiming that people who "say you can't run away from your problems aren't really trying", he of course returns in the end to face the inevitability that the new generation will tread down the last.
In its final moments, Li'l Bastard snapped me into deep focus after I had floated in that feeling we all get when exposed to a whirlwind of over-stimulating consumer culture. McGimpsey masterfully manages to make his reader twirl to the edge of the precipice and has us stop just in time to stare down into the depth that will inevitably win.
By David McGimpsey
Published by Coach House Books
Photos Courtesy of Evan Munday