Below, David McGimpsey on class & poetry (or reason ten, why I love David McGimspey).
David McGimpsey: Of course I meet that kind of resistance all the time and, in some ways, it always surprises me. This resistance, of course, never actually comes from a stuffy Julliard professor looking down his or her nose at me as I besmirch the sublimity of Mozart. The resistance more often comes from sheltered MFAs, insecure grad students, and poetasters whose cultural palate, to use a comparison they will appreciate, is as extensive and refined as the menu at Arby’s. I should say, however, that I am not championing “the people” or the wisdom of the streets: rarely do I express knowledge and enthusiasm for products which are as culturally sanctified as the blues. I would rather write about The Karate Kid.
So, this dismissal, to put more of a spin on it, usually comes from good middle class folk who are trying to show off their decent educations and who just want to write their fancy poems about prowling mooncats or how awful that mean old Dick Cheney was and who would never think of themselves as enforcing class divisions. Good people know it’s not nice to say somebody who was born poor is unsalvageable, but somebody who publicly likes NASCAR or enjoys drinking diet soda from the can— well, good luck explaining that at the next departmental cinq a sept.
There’s a yawning, routine anti-Americanism which comes into play in this, of course, and it’s impossible to defend against the screeds of Canadian jingoists. I understand the role of elitism in the cultural production of poetry and how it simply does not welcome reference to working class culture (beyond sad imagery about defeated fathers in undershirts watching sports on the tube) and, on occasion, picking up on the simple bigotry behind it all, hurts to hear. But it remains strange to me that most of this tut-tutting comes not in service of actually promoting the ancients (my poetry is actually fond of the ancients, is conscious of both canon and repertoire) but mostly in service of trying to preserve a provincial notion of elitist social order organized around the idea of “poetry.” To keep it free of references to Miley Cyrus. Not in the name of Milton or Wordsworth, but in the name of some rather recent Canadian book of poetry with a title like In the House of the Moth-Stone. Not in the name of Mozart, but somehow in the name of boxed wine and sensible sweaters. I actually prefer my snobs snobby.