Eye Weekly loves Sitcom like a great TV show

By Brian Joseph Davis
Eye Weekly
Thursday, September 27, 2007

Books

By Brian Joseph Davis

TV party tonight!

“Deconstruction,” Jacques Derrida once admonished a BBC reporter, “does not produce any sitcoms. Do your homework and read.” Gauls may not wanna have fun, but Montreal poet David McGimpsey does, and would very well take Derrida's statement as a challenge. In Sitcom (Coach House Books, 88 pages, $16.95), his fourth collection of poems, McGimpsey draws on the metaphoric powers of sitcom and television stars to construct something, and it is a fascinating something, as tragic as it funny.

After a litany of names powerful, empty and nostalgic (Bailey Quarters, anyone?), McGimpsey settles into a stride with “14 Episodes,” a page composed of 14 one-line fake synopses of the doomed series, Joey. In it, McGimpsey has crafted a cenotaph to a fallen, attenuated history – “Joey discovers a chimp wearing pants. / Gina tells Joey the chimp has cancer. / Sara judges a super-hunk contest. / Joey tells Gina he's found a new hope.”

Later, he connects the fragmentation of the cancelled series with Shakespeare's Timon of Athens, itself an unfinished work that hovers between tragedy and difficult comedy (thank you, Wikipedia). McGimpsey is a professor and several poems are spoken from a place of academic debate. This sometimes works: “One of the few times / you came to class you said / Timon of Athens was an unreadable play / about a fucktard who has a hissy fit / when he realizes he can't buy friendship.” But sometimes McGimpsey is obtuse, if only because his language is as thick as pre-digital TV static.

He does, to the betterment of the collection, stray from the tube and disputed Elizabethan theatre for the glorious lameness of the world at large. In “Failte!”, McGimpsey writes, “I love St. Patrick's Day. I really do. / It's the only holiday completely / ruined by the music of U2. Sure, / Christmas is ruined a bit by the music of U2, Easter maybe a bit more; / I'm sure more than one Yom Kippur has felt / less atoneful because of the music of U2, and, let's face it, every day / is a little bit ruined by the music / of U2.”

McGimpsey's hagiography isn't new – Charles Olsen's invoking of Jimmy Durante and Michael Ondaatje's Collected Works of Billy the Kid come to mind – but then, sitcoms should never feel new, lest they lose their mythological simplicity. Thanks to McGimpsey's infomercial-strong pitch, he's proven that one may experience sublimity by repeating the mantra “Aloha, Garret, Five-O” as much, if not better, than one can by studying W.H. Auden.

No two forms have been declared dead as many times as sitcoms and poetry – this odd couple should have met cute a long time ago.

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