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Essay

Alessandro Porco on David McGimpsey's "KoKo"

(How Poems Work, April 2005)
Each of David McGimpsey’s first three collections of poetry–Lardcake, dogboy, and Hamburger Valley, California–includes installments in what are commonly referred to as his “chubby sonnets.” Sixteen-lines in length; dividing equally into four four-line stanzas; picaresque in tone–the poems carefully locate and straddle pathos and bathos, sentimentality and irony. Part character, part caricature, the speaker is, to borrow from “KoKo,” “one of the great defectives,” a resident of Loserville, described by McGimpsey elsewhere as the “demented but proud and gated community / that will not let the winners in.” He is perhaps most-aptly described as a warm-hearted Travis Bickle, or, inversely, a cold-hearted Quixote….

Each of David McGimpsey’s first three collections of poetry–[_Lardcake_], [_dogboy_], and [_Hamburger Valley, California_]–includes installments in what are commonly referred to as his “chubby sonnets.” Sixteen-lines in length; dividing equally into four four-line stanzas; picaresque in tone–the poems carefully locate and straddle pathos and bathos, sentimentality and irony. Part character, part caricature, the speaker is, to borrow from “KoKo,” “one of the great defectives,” a resident of Loserville, described by McGimpsey elsewhere as the “demented but proud and gated community / that will not let the winners in.” He is perhaps most-aptly described as a warm-hearted Travis Bickle, or, inversely, a cold-hearted Quixote…


Each of David McGimpsey’s first three collections of poetry–[_Lardcake_], [_dogboy_], and [_Hamburger Valley, California_]–includes installments in what are commonly referred to as his “chubby sonnets.” Sixteen-lines in length; dividing equally into four four-line stanzas; picaresque in tone–the poems carefully locate and straddle pathos and bathos, sentimentality and irony. Part character, part caricature, the speaker is, to borrow from “KoKo,” “one of the great defectives,” a resident of Loserville, described by McGimpsey elsewhere as the “demented but proud and gated community / that will not let the winners in.” He is perhaps most-aptly described as a warm-hearted Travis Bickle, or, inversely, a cold-hearted Quixote.
In his essay “Sweet Poetry or Mystery Meat?”, published in [_Side/lines: A New Canadian Poetics_], McGimspey describes growing up “loving the Confessional poets, then adoring Tennyson and Yeats, and I habitually listen to Country & Western music […] I value poetry that commemorates emotional experience through an accultured, personal sensibility” (168). His “accultured, personal sensibility” includes “the prosaic aspects of our culture (the malls, the khaki pants, the concert you thought would change your life, the TV shows, the baloney and the bologna, the dieting),” and he “[sees] into them our most hopeful and tragic selves.” In that last point, McGimpsey echoes Yeats, who writes, “We that look on but laugh in tragic joy” (“The Gyres” 8). And _laugh_ we do.
“KoKo” is a representative chubby sonnet. The Office–a postmodern space so often the subject of situational comedy is an obvious influence here–locates the poem’s conceit, thus imposing its particular figurative and prosaic language, respectively: “I limped aggressively into the office,” says the poem’s disgruntled-employee speaker,
bq. and _finally_ told a co-worker to shutup.
My boss overheard, grabbed me and said,
“you’re not the sharpest pencil in the box, are you?”
p. The colloquial quality of such lines achieves poetic compression by way of the stanza form. Each stanza has the value of a thought-unit; for instance, the poem’s first stanza concentrates its focus on the speaker’s boss,
bq.          one of the great defectives.
He claimed our poor profits in the recession
stemmed from his “fear of circus clowns.”
p. (Notice McGimpsey’s ability to encapsulate a character through an exacting idiosyncratic detail, such as the boss’s phobia, but never abandoning the poem’s conceptual frame.) Each thought-unit relays and reflexes with those that proceed and precede, the end result of which is a poem that is, literally, the sum of its parts–and more, in that the relay and reflex are the chief source of comedy.
bq. The irony was I ended up working as a clown
in front of a flower shop right there on 6th avenue.
And the boss would walk by–
in this, the poem’s finale, the reflexive return to the opening stanza’s clowns and stanza three’s co-worker results in the humor and horror of those final repeated taunts: “shutup, shutup, shutup.”
Comedy, as they say, is no laughing matter. By paying close attention to McGimpsey’s poetry we might begin to recognize the structural integrity–that is to say, the craft–of his funny-man successes.