12 or 20 questions: with David McGimpsey
David McGimpsey was born and raised in Montreal. He has a PhD in English Literature and is the author of the award-winning study Imagining Baseball: America's Pastime and Popular Culture, as well as a collection of short stories and four collections of poetry. His travel writings frequently appear in the Globe and Mail and he writes the ‘Sandwich of the Month’ column for EnRoute magazine. He teaches at Concordia University.
1 - How did your first book change your life?
I remember getting my first copy of Lardcake (ECW, 1996) and seeing the author photo and thinking “Wow! The camera does add ten pounds!” I think my first book enhanced, rather than changed my life. I would hope a life is something too rooted to be swayed much by the mere publication of a small press book. However, the acceptance my first book received helped in my desire to prevent my life from changing into something I did not want (i.e. folding sweaters in The Bay to make a living).
2 - How long have you lived in Montreal, and how does geography, if at all, impact on your writing? Does race or gender make any impact on your work?
Except for the years I was in graduate school in Halifax (I did my PhD at Dal) I’ve always lived in Montreal. My parents still live in the house I grew up in Ville D’Anjou – a suburb at the very eastern part of the island right by the oil refineries, where my father worked.
Race and gender impact all writing. As do matters of class and ethnicity. I think growing up working class and Anglophone in Quebec has had a profound effect on my understanding of writing and on my writing’s relationship to Anglo-American culture and to literary culture as a whole. How could it not?
3 - Where does a poem or piece of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
“Where all the ladders start.” I’m a fairly disciplined writer, but allow myself to explore, write, with no thought as to what “project” I’m working on. I don’t quite like the sound of that - writing poems as if they were important projects (“Look teacher, I wrote 50 poems about brambleberries!”). What’s that Johnson quote about the sure sign of incipient madness being when someone thinks what they do is terribly important? So, I write poems, or make books, I don’t embark on projects – though I appreciate what’s meant by that kind of conceptualizing. Maybe that Soviet “project” embarkment is an affect of grant applications, establishing a sense of community project into one’s terribly important insights about the glaciers and the role of “memory”. Sometimes a word or phrase suggests a direction, sometimes the dry discipline of writing (I’m gonna write a freakin’ sonnet!) makes it happen. Even if not, because of the anthological nature of poetry, it will always lead towards something like a book.
4 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process?
I work as a stand up comedian sometimes and so I’m aware of the basic dynamics of performance and knowing a little bit about how to craft a joke, I have some knowledge of public / popular space in how I approach character-voice in my poems. I enjoy reading in public and think I’m okay at it, but poetry readings are, by and large, entertainment-proof. I have left some readings feeling so incredibly inspired and engaged but I’ve also left many feeling the need to be relieved of their oppressive air.
5 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
Sprite or 7Up? Strat or Tele? Britney or K-Fed?
6 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Essential because it is fraught with an inherent difficulty. A great editor is a great blessing. A bad editor can also be blessing insofar as any of the book’s failings you can blame on their lack of care.
7 - After having published more than a couple of titles over the years, do you find the process of book-making harder or easier?
Once a realistic perception of one’s position in the literary marketplace sets in, it’s easier to concentrate on artistic goals. Writing is always hell.
8 - When was the last time you ate a pear?
I think Tiffany was singing in the malls then. What about Absolut Pear? Seriously, I had a poached pear at lunch the other day, it came with pistachio-encrusted chevre
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
My brother-in-law Doug told me, at the most defining point in my life, that I did not have to be embarrassed to have strong emotions.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction to critical work)? What do you see as the appeal?
As easy as moving between the genres of breakfast and lunch. The human mind has a wonderful capacity to distinguish time for waffles from time for soup. Does that make prose-poetry brunch? I don’t do brunch. I am adamant about that. No brunch. No brunch whatsoever. Poetry and prose are not ontological modes.
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
Depends on my schedule. I always make time for writing. But, basically what else is there get the coffee in me, open the lap top and git er done.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Other writers, obvies. Esp. those who share my sense of shame.
13 - How does your most recent book compare to your previous work? How does it feel different?
Sitcom has a unified formal conceit, which my previous poetry collections do not. Otherwise, still working on Main Street. My collections of poems tend to have some desire to spin outward from my readings of poetry (Sitcom is, in a way, my response to Browning and Shakespeare) and perhaps a tendency to use the word “Urkel” more often than most poetry.
14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Music in particular. I still write song lyrics and dream of one day writing a song that Faith Hill will sing.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Frederick Exley’s A Fan’s Notes, Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. Virgil, Shakespeare, Tennyson, Browning, Baudelaire, Hardy, Yeats, Fitzgerald, Lowell, Berryman.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Eat a taco in each of the 50 states.
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
I would have worked in the oil refineries in the east end of Montreal. I’d be a bartender, I think. A tough one. I’d like a job where I could yell at people.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Fear of honest work.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Byron’s Don Juan. Big Momma’s House Two.
20 - What are you currently working on?
I am currently concentrating on my music. I just wrote a song called “Drunken E-Mails Are All I Ever Knew of Love.” It’s obviously going to be HUGE.
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