A review of Sitcom by David Mcgimpsey
Published on October 1, 2007
Coach House Books
David McGimpsey’s witty collection shows some of the hazards of satirizing popular culture. The subject is a bit like the Tar Baby in the Bre’r Rabbit story: the harder you hit it, the more bemired you become, toiling in “the pitch that defiles,” as Shakespeare (a more substantial entertainer than, say, Tony Danza) said in Love’s Labour’s Lost
. Danza, Mary Tyler Moore, and the cast of Gilligan’s Island are just a few of the objects of McGimpsey’s wit, and two poems are based on episodes of Suddenly Susan
, a sitcom starring Brooke Shields that ran from 1996-2000. It’s disturbing to imagine the research behind this book. Amusingly, one of McGimpsey’s poems turns Sylvia Plath’s life into a cheery sitcom with Valerie Harper playing her mother. Certainly our culture is preoccupied with bad television and celebrities who abuse substances but have no substance. McGimpsey’s satiric master seems to be Juvenal, who made enduring poetry out of the fools of his age, but the Roman poet attacked generic fools, not trademarked ones, and his work has endured for close to 2,000 years. Will a Ted Turner superstation broadcast Happy Days
a century from now so that future readers can understand McGimpsey’s satires? Perhaps we might fear that it will. Alexander Pope, who supplies an epigraph to one section of the book, excoriated bad writers in The Dunciad
, and perhaps the stars of bad sitcoms are our equivalent of the bad actor and playwright Colly Cibber, whom Pope made king of the dunces.
One problem with denouncing the ephemeral lies in the nature of the targets. Dozens of bad writers survive only as footnotes in The Dunciad. Pope’s elegant couplets make it worth the trouble to read about them. McGimpsey’s roughly iambic lines do not have the same brilliant sheen, the same satiric bite. The typical McGimpsey poem is at least two pages in length, and compression – a little density – would have intensified their impact. A shaggy dog poem like “Manhattan” (“two dogs walk into a Manhattan bar”) could have been compressed down to nothing. There are sonnets scattered among the long poems, and most of them are quite good. We should be grateful for “Fáilte,” a sonnet in which McGimpsey declares that St. Patrick’s Day is the only holiday completely ruined by the music of U2, which makes this holiday “an amazing legacy / of Bono’s unofficial papacy.” The metaphor of Bono as a pop pope is deliciously appropriate. mRb
Bert Almon lives in Edmonton, Alberta. Retired from teaching, he follows the careers of his former students.