“McGimpsey displays erudition, clever insights and a knack for the wickedly funny wisecrack.” —The Washington Post
“Little miracles of comic timing.” —Books in Canada
“Illuminating” —The New York Times
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Canadian poetry, well done, with everything, to go. Hamburger Valley, California is David McGimpsey’s funniest and most compelling collection to date. With his unapologetic love of popular culture, he presents an elaborate lyric postcard, which explores, from a most unprivileged seat on the cheapest bus, love and (somebody else’s) fame. McGimpsey challenges the bonds of place in a global (American) economy — with personal warmth and characteristic wisecracking — daring to dream of escape not only to an impossibly meaty Southern California, but to the sous-sol of the poetic heart. How can we best celebrate the Los Angeles subway? What’s Wayne Gretzky doing in retirement? What fantasy stems from a British soap opera star? How is life like aging daredevil Evel Knieval? What did Mike Pearson say to LBJ? Who the hell is Vili Fualauu? How does cutting classes lead to absurd fantasies of Toronto? What will happen in the next millennium? What rhymes with Liberace? McGimpsey answers these questions in a way that will make you think you always wanted to know the answer. The daring, hilarious title poem, though, is the pièce de resistance: it braves every aspect of hamburger lore as a response to what Shakespeare called, “the plague and sighing of grief.” No quick snack, Hamburger Valley, California is a poetry lover’s grand buffet.
“Little miracles of comic timing.” —Books in Canada
“Illuminating” —The New York Times
O Porco Mio
How can I live knowing there's a fish called crappie?
How can I contemplate the spider's delicate noose,
the manta ray skimming the seafloor, the weed-eating goats,
when Donny and Marie are yet once more on TV?
I'm a little bit tubby, I'm a little bit unemployed,
though there was the time I worked the photocopy stall
on the unpopular side of the Riverside Mall
and got canned (they say) "for making helicopter noises."
How could I go on without snooze button technology?
Without the deep back-up of anti-stumble meds,
just in case I ever want to step elegantly off a jet
after counting the crests on the wide-like-me sea?
I double cream, take out the instructions and sleep on my side —
despite the whirly musics and the unsolid bits
I may get to use the moneys from a prestigious scholarship
to finance (I hope) the greatest Sasquatch hoax of our time.
Ashley Peacock Rubber Room
The lover crashes through the room
but avoiding other baked bean, East-end accents;
bumps into a makeshift card table,
provoking the scorn of players
who've been all the way to Belgium and back;
sees a local is holding a pair of sevens.
That's the way it is most of the time.
The lover starts out ineffectually,
all strange accelerations and unexplained floodings,
umming and ahhing, misquoting old sources —
even Canto III from The Rubicon of Omar Curtis Armstrong;
but, used to using words like "gobstopper" and "brill,"
the lover laments an elaborate pseudohistory,
sharpens the cleaver,
separates chuck from loin,
hangs up his blood-smeared apron
and halfheartedly defends the oeuvre of The Brat Pack;
so, the Emilio Estevez pose.
The lover isn't practiced like a radio doctor
but he imitates that tell it like it is lilt,
talks with a slightly pressured tone,
rushing out "last thoughts"
as if at any minute the station will break
for ads from a man who calls himself Crazy
for fronting a company of mattress retailers and blender czars.
The lover doesn't act quickly
but strangely thinks love spasmodic;
moves like an overused human subject in edible-chemical tests,
like one who's spent days challenging
molecules in a preservative
found in radish-flavored chips
sold only in Asian specialty shops.
The lover believes in change
and, therefore, is ultimately pro cult;
powerless in the face of the cult's understanding embrace
of another world
where babies do not cry out
as they cart mother robots off to the robot colony.
The lover asks the same questions,
so often the words lose definition.
The lover becomes an assembly line —
an assembly line in a hungry continent —
cranking out electronic toys which dispense mild shocks,
toys that may or may not be responsible
for spreading a fatigue-related virus
that only affects part-time University instructors
(hence its colloquial name, "The Lucky Flu").
I love ya, says the lover through uncapped teeth,
reedily, intimating the cuddly prerogatives
of the marrying kind,
aiming ready happys,
breaking earth on his final
The lover chooses a burgundy.
the one that goes best with chest pains,
the one that compliments stuttering,
the one that puts a fine leathery finish
on a lifetime of fry.
The doormat to the flat reads Welcome.
The lover thinks of what it would be like
to swallow origamied rsvps.
nice at any price
& Cindy Margolis's old-fashioned poultice
Linda Tripp's licorice whip
Rebecca Romijn's aspertame
From Rita Wilson to Jonathan Taylor
Wesley Snipes handiwipes
& Ginger Lynn Allen's home pregnancy challenge
Geri Halliwell sings lovesongs from hell to Bill "The Tuna" Parcells
Vanna White's color-adjusted Sky Light
Anna Kournikova's banana-hued Range Rover
and fire up
a Justin Timberlake rib-eye steak.
& Gwyneth Paltrow's pin number is Ten Eight Four O
to the Affleck-affected sexbank, the Pitt pit
(the Carmen Electra perfecta?)
where Debbie Matenopolous is no sadder than the rest of us
maybe just a little, just a little less sunshine
Ancient Rock Mythology
I Alice Cooper at Thermopylae
At a store that mostly sold winter shovels,
a record bin.
There lay ambition: switched pricetags
and Alice Cooper's School's Out came home.
Camped out by a water-streaked console,
more furniture than high fidelity,
coffin-sized, still geared for 78 speed,
parents' Pete Seeger records tucked tight inside;
turned on low, ear to the speaker,
getting comfy, pushing it up,
waiting-out the inevitable
Will you turn that damn thing down?
School's Out had everything: loud guitars,
praises of juvenile delinquency,
lyrics about trading cigarettes for beer,
street fight sound effects —
cats' claws, broken glass.
And, the world's greatest promotional item —
the disc came wrapped in a white panty,
a soft, elastic, waxy see-through piece.
Whatever happened to the underwear?
It was certainly too confusing
to be thought of as just a rockin' souvenir.
On thin ice defending Alice Cooper,
how would girls' white frillies be explained
to good people who listened to "Feelin' Groovy"?
A plastic stereo by luck of a birthday;
locked in the room, volume creeping up,
bangs on the door, battering, "Turn that down.
Turn that down! I can't hear myself think!"
Never. And, in a way, that door was never opened,
and the records spun my lonesomeness,
staring at walls —
bare (but black lighted).
II Ritchie Blackmore and the Golden Fleece
In a basement with faux-mahogany paneling,
his brother's precious records.
Said Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple
could actually make a guitar sing;
"Child in Time" over and over,
waiting on the transformation,
his mother coming in and out,
Eggo waffles and Ice Palace pop.
Never heard the guitar vocalize
but it was heavy.
Not like Zep's flamboyance,
which was more about chicks,
and chest hair.
The Purples intimated the glamour of hotel-room hepatitis,
gave birth to Fender Strat fantasies
which would forever be balanced
by You suck sureties.
Funky Claude c'est nous.
Came through to early metal music pronunciations.
where "stranger" was "strange-ahh"
and "king" was "key-ay-ing."
A vital corporeal truth.
if your ears didn't ring for three full days
it couldn't have been much of a concert.
Bootlegs titled Decibel Lords,
Music to Make Your Ears Bleed,
Unreasonably Loud and Deep Deafness.
Blackmore solo, 1976,
his elaborate light works fritz-out,
delays the start of the show until 2 a.m..
More older brothers and sisters recognized,
Tiffany Tavern regulars:
"Whatcha doin here punk?
You get tickets at the Forum, punk?
You got anything with you, punk?
Need us to getcha a beer, punk?"
A February night at 4 a.m.,
car exhaust hugs the asphalt
as a deep cold slaps back rasp and sweat;
in a full gallop on grand St. Catherine Street
just enough coin in pocket to buy a Sprite at Mr. Sub.
III John Lennon and the Minotaur
Bullish days and thick black smoke,
a smack of honey bud, as if, as if, as if
there was a chance (and High School might end).
John Lennon singing Nietzsche-lite.
as if he could proclaim the death of Elvis,
as if he could navigate generational distrust,
and encode all peer suspicion
in Fuck you songs written to Paul McCartney.
Through birthdays of beige corduroy
and mumbling counselors who sat by the window,
smiling at the mention of music lessons,
their eyes on the mall across the highway
where they took their afterschool pints.
Called to sacrifice teen angers
to some college-bound code of maturity,
we refused. Giving up on normal,
we did the most normal things.
a matinee of the Jaws-ripoff Grizzly,
a tequila bottle dropped in Rossini's Pizza.
Nickels and dimes to plug the box,
lyric sheets to memorize.
Rock music the centerpiece of any life choice,
the only hope for change.
a new album nuanced where you wanted to go,
what society you hoped to leave.
As you could escape the prisons of BTO and Styx
so might you find your way through the hallways,
by the likes of Plastic Ono
and / or an Inuit-carved toke-stone.
The long wait for income-adjusters and oncologists
underscored by a thousand dopey dead ends;
warming to bright island music
when any ukulele would do.
IV Curse on the House of Aerosmith
Sometime after ABBA called it quits,
they say Agnetha became reclusive;
long walks around the parklands of Stockholm —
no interviews please.
But even when "Waterloo" and "Chiquitita" raved
the jean jacket set, the partyers, had rigorous laws:
Disco sucks, man.
Barry Manilow? Gay.
Disco sucks, man.
Black Oak Arkansas, on the other hand,
was worthy of heavy investment.
get to the concert early to beat the festival seating rush
and only a hundred people show,
Jim Dandy shakes every hand
like a well-bred Southern Democrat
and puffs-up on stage. It was routine, it was work.
an Emerson Lake and Palmer summer concert
with a symphony orchestra that went on strike,
Pink Floyd with a giant inflatable pig
that did not inflate,
Peter Frampton with hair that crossed
Louis Quatorze with Cheryl Ladd;
and, of course, Thin Lizzy
and the riff in "The Boys Are Back in Town."
Even Rush, Max Webster, ZZ Top and Argent
served their purpose,
remaining undanceable and repulsive to girls.
Why hurry? Could such rock-ready geeks,
what with their taste for instant mashed potatoes,
really smoke their way through? Come on.
Would they ever be the ones
to sit high as a Trump,
gored by pinot noire and West Side quacks?
It must have been ripening wisdom
(or is that "aging out of the demographic"?),
and it certainly was Aerosmith
who ended the rock concert streak;
the Toys in the Attic Aerosmith,
the Aerosmith on cocaine Aerosmith.
A big, bright stage show;
a wall of flood lights pulses out the letter "A"
and winds down behind the band
like a rusty ferris wheel at the county fair.
Straddling the backs of chairs,
straining to see over wicked heads of hair,
the repetitive right-on fist pumps,
rocking a whole row. It was glorious,
it was a bore. It was long before
retro disco parties around tasteful kitchens,
where reformed partyers danced to "Mama Mia"
in-between conversations which start out "So, what do you do?"
It was long before Aerosmith's post-ironic durability
as awards show entertainment.
Decreed a smoky cul-de-sac for "Yeah, man" sayers,
the rock show became another "never again" thing,
as if one could manage destiny by such a choice —
but now, what do I do?
Bounce fabric softener has brought increased happiness
and Agnetha Fältskog walks alone.
Excerpted from Hamburger Valley, California by David McGimpsey, Michael Holmes. Copyright © 2001 David McGimpsey. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
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David McGimpsey is a poet, essayist, and musician. The author of two previous collections (Dogboy and Lardcake, also published by ECW Press), as well as the recent critical study Imagining Baseball: America’s Pastimeand Popular Culture, he currently writes and teaches in Montreal.
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