Criticism, craft, and Miss Virginia: David McGimpsey’s Li’l Bastard

David McGimpsey. Li’l Bastard. Toronto: Coach House Books, 2011.

~ reviewed by rob mclennan


Montreal writer, critic, sandwich reviewer and rock star David McGimpsey’s fifth trade poetry collection, L’il Bastard (2011), is perhaps the only poetry collection that comes with (at least, as part of the press materials) a guitar pick.

In this collection of what McGimpsey calls “chubby sonnets,” McGimpsey adheres to pop culture with the same devotion and knowledge he brings to the traditions of the sonnet, two flavours not usually bound together, wrapped with a seriousness that even belies the obvious humour.

McGimpsey knows the history of the sonnet, and turns that knowledge to his advantage, writing sixteen as opposed to the standard fourteen lines. L’il Bastard is a poetry collection of 128 numbered sonnets, meticulously carved and delightfully subversive, and they further the accomplishments of his A.M. Klein Award-shortlisted Sitcom (Coach House Books, 2007), another collection that blended an exploration and twisting of traditional poetic forms with an engagement with popular culture. Li’l Bastard is sectioned into an array of travel sections, including “St. Lawrence Street,” “Perdita, TX,” “North of Chicago,” “Nashville Songs,” “L.A.,” “Ville-Marie” and “Fountains of Versailles,” with a slight detour into vintage television in “Barnaby Jones.”

Part of the appeal of any of McGimpsey’s writing is in the increasing amount of commentary mixed with groan or guffaw humour:

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”)

“The method for poetry,” McGimpsey riffs elsewhere, “is like dance: you get drunk with your idiotic friends / and refuse to do it” (“73. Song about the Rod Stewart…”.)

In 2010, the poet and critic Alessandro Porco edited the anthology Population Me: Essays on David McGimpsey (Palimpsest Press); it might seem unusual for a writer with only a half dozen or so titles to be thus acknowledged, but there is a heft about McGimpsey’s writing that has yet to be fully acknowledged, or even understood. Behind the quipping, we learn such facts (whether true or not) as

My daughter-in-law was once a beauty queen.
Betty’s official duties, like all Miss
Virginias, included prosecuting
the state’s more incorrigible tax frauds. (“36. Tonight’s Episode: False Spring, Real Fall.”)

McGimpsey’s sharp, funny pen offers also criticism, and craft.


rob mclennan is the author of more than twenty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction; his most recent are A (short) history of l., Glengarry and kate street.


Get Arc. Who knows, maybe an upcoming issue will come with a whole guitar.


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