Missed in '11: The Montreal Poets

I don't read a lot of poetry. This isn't Poetry's fault, I just don't have the tools, perhaps, to give it what it deserves. Both these poets, however, moved me enough to want to share my experience of their work. Dave McGimpsey's Li'l Bastard and Jon Paul Fiorentino's Indexical Elegies are as different as can be, but both are wonderful collections.

Li'l Bastard has a travelling narrative running behind it, that makes the “chubby sonnets” read like a memoir. McGimpsey's sly love of "low" culture — fast food, pop music, and Hollywood — is always conscious, but he doesn't let the world get away with serving up lesser quality even in these experiences. (He would also probably appreciate that I began writing this review with a bit of a hangover and a craving for tacos.) I'd read a couple of the poems in a friend's copy of the book, and they seemed a bit sad, yet wry and pop-culture conscious. Basically the exact qualities I love in Douglas Coupland. When McGimpsey read at the Coach House fall launch, the poems were more alive, felt slightly bawdy, and a lot funnier. McGimpsey's reading persona seems like a better dressed Falstaff, and you could easily imagine him leading a group of youngsters to a cheerful and perfectly legal life of semi-depravity. I kept that in-person voice in my head when I got down to reading Li'l Bastard on the plane ride to and from France. Lovely to read the Versailles poems having been there only days before. I suppose the comparison can be made to Los Angeles — the section of the book I enjoyed the most — but as opulent as the Americans can get, they'll never get close to things that made me exclaim what the Frenchy gilded fuck!?

116. Place Versailles.
Bronze frolickers in copper fountains.
More copper fountains, more bronze frolicking.
Aztec in influence, or perhaps Bauhaus.
It's not really as garish as it sounds.

To assess the artistic merit
of Versailles is to consider the triumph
of two sexy lingerie shops competing
in a mall. Oui! Versailles Pik-Nik Donut.

There's a sound barrier by the highway now
as if the ghosts who live au bout de l'île
need to eat their apples free from the noise
while they consider their office gossip.

The best thing to do to an enemy
is poison their supply of canned bean dip.
'I'm in Anjou!'I tell all my friends
As if light years from dips of any kind. (135).

Edit on that bad boy. He's talking about a mall in Montreal, not a royal residence in France. Which, you know, makes the thing about the lingerie shops make more sense. But there's a highway behind Versailles, too. There's anachronistic statuary, confusions of influence. And hey, there's poetry being whatever you, me, silly person, brings to the table. Though I was all "Why is he in France all of a sudden?" And it makes these lines from earlier in the book become a kind of motif. (Augh, so good!)
I'm not a stylist but I did discover one phrase
that could make anything seem insignificant —
and that phrase was 'Made in Canada.' ("46. Tonight's Episode: Springtime for Schemers" 55)
McGimpsey seems to prefer LA (and so do I). There are a lot of other places to travel to in Li'l Bastard and so many moments that are half-chuckle, half-sigh. Jersey Shore and Schubert in the same line. I dog-eared every tenth page. I loved every second.
86. Oceanside.
Every new-to-Cali knob thinks the sunlands
Will dry out the damp root of their eastern ache;
it’s as ridiculous as movie scenes where men
jump off rooftops and don’t end up in wheelchairs.

There’s a simple logic to L.A.’s values.
People don’t pretend your personality
is of consequence. The wisdom of
prostitution blossoms with magnolias*.

Angelinos live like they believe people
only care about you for your money
or your tits. Life is more relaxed, relieved
of a grad student’s sense of what is fair.

Brandy and plastic cups in the parking lot —
a little impromptu eucharist.
This is your body and this is your body
a good chug for pretending you don’t care. (101)


Indexical Elegies is the first book of poetry that has had me scribbling madly in the margins since my grades depended doing so. It's also a more... I hesitate to say traditional, because Fiorentino has his own voice (obviously, since his writing stood out so much for me) but more what you would expect from poetry. It's more esoteric, softer in tone, more obviously introspective (you have to dig a bit for that in McGimpsey, but it's there). Given all that, it's harder for me to talk about, but here goes!
Suppose you’ve been found out and you find out you
don’t care. Suppose you process this supposition.
(“Cruelty-as-Trend.” 17)
I know Fiorentino from Twitter a little bit, so I know we share a love of the Mozzer. There are stanzas in “I'm pulling for your narrative”
The word lovely wakes
you up at 4 p.m. and says:

It's been a while
it's lost its charm

You sleep too much
you drink too long
(20)
that remind me so much of “Will Never Marry” where Morrissey says
An inbuilt guilt catches up with you
And as it comes around to your place
At 5 A.M.; wakes you up and it laughs in your face.
There are some interesting thoughts about anti-pretension pretension; the tired idea that the creative exists only from a place of relative squalor. “It's easy to look down on you/from this basement suite” (“Grift economy” 18) “Don't let yourself let/everyone know you get paid.” (“Cautiously solipsistic” 24) The smooth and delicate wordplay, and macro-thinking about art, ("Don't have a problem/in writing/Need a/room in which to brood” [“Mentholism” 11]) moves into deeply personal pieces about loss. I made no notes, just felt every sad moment. In the face of such loss, what art means, means nothing. The writer can do nothing but write:
Tied up in theory
so cold on consignment

Dust gathers
librarians dust

He's dead

Too much displacement
not enough condensation (untitled? 50)
To escape the pain, possibly, of loss, Fiorentino moves backwards in time in the third part — Transpraire — to the days before Montreal, back to Winnipeg. His already sparse and concise lines become even more punctuated, move into sharp bullet-point lists. These are thin poems that run you through like killer blades of prairie grass. By way of contrast, lest the reader become to used to the flow, there is one engorged piece of nostalgia, “Famous grey Chevette” (a nod to Famous Blue Raincoat possibly?), shaped like a dense fog or cloud in the middle of the section. Transprarie moves from death back into life, all the ghosts of past/present/future accounted for, ending appropriately with “Dying in Winnipeg.”

I know punctuation and the like are super important to poetry. Therefore, if I've messed anything up in the transcription, I apologize!
*Magnolias showed up in another book I was reading around the same time, and for some reason this just stood out for me. “The magnolia trees hadn’t read Roland Barthes. They didn’t think love was a mental state; the magnolias insisted it was natural, perennial.” Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot (65).

No comments: