Friday, December 19, 2008

Recent Interview

Adam Goldberg, an Emerson College student and a regular at the Cantab Lounge's Boston Poetry, just put together a web site on performance poetry, even being nice enough to include information on Stone Soup. He also posted an email interview with me, even calling it "perhaps the best interview on the site," though I feel like a retard the way I first wrote it. I sent Adam a corrected version, but he hasn't posted it yet. He's done with school for the semester, so if he never touches the page again, I won't blame him.

While it's still up, check out Adam's site here, just so you can appreciate the hard work he's done. While you're at it, read the interview with local favorite Steve Subrizi here (I'm linking Steve's page, since the link in the main interview page is incorrect). As for my page, you can either click to Adam's page here, or you can read a revised, more readable version below (then again, you should probably click on Adam's page as much as possible. Maybe he gets a higher grade for all the hits he gets.

Adam Goldberg: What's your relationship with poetry?

Chad Parenteau: I’ve been trying to write poetry since I was seventeen, and I’ve had signs of success since I was twenty-one. Since late 2005, I have been involved with Stone Soup Poetry, a venue in Cambridge that has been around the Boston area since 1973 (the year of my birth, incidentally). Every Monday, I’ve been hosting and booking for the venue, trying to do right by its history. In the past, Stone Soup and its founder, Jack Powers, would feature (and even in some cases publish) people as local as Joanna Nealon and famous as John Wieners and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. My approach is to see Stone Soup as kind of a poetic “Catch A Rising Star” doing my best to feature newer poets I find worthy of attention.

AG: On the same token, where'd it start? How's it gonna end?

Chad: The smatterings of being what I jokingly call a “Poet-for-Hire” began in grade school, when I discovered that writing light verse was something I was good at (being a nerdy recluse, I couldn’t list much at the time), though I didn’t pursue it. Sometime in high school, a friend had an idea for a poem to be published in the school paper, and I ended up writing it for him. This made me the only student I knew of with anything resembling a vested interest in writing poems, writing a whopping four poems I was satisfied with by my senior year, thinking I could make a living at that or journalism (stop laughing). In 1991, during the time of the recession, any poetry or journalism class was scrapped. I was still curious to learn more, and my only outlet was an English teacher who would look at my work, once calling one of my poems “nifty.”

When will it end? I know a lot of people in my life (family, friends) who thought my “poetry phase” would have ended when I graduated college, then when I got my first non-service-sector job, and now...

To be honest, I look back on certain times when my annual output of poetry made my high school years look prolific. I wonder why it didn’t end then, even when I all but prepared for it with a possible marriage. Compulsion would be a good bet. The idea that something good or long-lasting can come of it is another. I also have to give a good deal of credit to the many facets of the poetry scene in and around Boston for at least helping me want to be a better poet (that desire alone makes me not want it to end). On my very bad days, I’ve thought that the scene itself would be the reason I’d stop with the poetry, but between compulsion and the endless internet communities, could that even stop me?

Okay, that was an annoying way of saying “I don’t know.” This is why I have to heavily edit my work before I ever show it to anyone.

AG: Thoughts on 30/30? (30 days, 30 poems) or similar programs?

Chad: I liked the idea so much, I did it amongst others for a couple of years before everyone in Boston joined the bandwagon. Lots of people have. Maureen Thorson is a poet in Washington DC who started the National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo) event a few years ago, inviting poets with blog sites every April to participate in the 30-in-30 challenge. It was also a little more of a public event (hence the blogs), not private like the recent event amongst Boston poets. I have not been successful every year and often had to break what I call the Emergency Haiku Glass, but it’s a great exercise, and it helped me write some of my better poems. Though I first felt a little bitter when everyone around me started talking about it like it was the “new thing,” I’m glad that more people are getting into it. Next year, I might even be crazy enough to try both NaPoWriMo in April and the 30/30 if they have it next October.

AG: Is there a typical process you use to produce a new poem? Once you have an idea in your head?

Chad: I tend to mix up technique, tools, locations, even the timeline for when I’ll flesh out an idea. Sometimes, I’ll force myself to write a poem out on paper before I finish it on a computer. Other times, I will take the idea straight to Microsoft Word before I lose it. Other times, the idea will stick in my head and not come out for a long time before a completed poem comes out at the end (the current record is three years).

AG: How many notebooks do you have?

Chad: After years of “false starts” with notebooks, I am now working on my third, averaging one every two years at my current rate.

AG: What should non-poets know about poets?

Chad: I wanted to say something like, “We appreciate you being in the audience,” but with some of the poets I hang with, I can’t say that’s entirely true, though I’d like it to be.

AG: Is there a poem you've been stuck on a long time? One you always try to end up writing?

Chad: A couple of years ago, I started a poem for my Mom. I spent some time in the hospital during the early aughts because of Crohn’s Disease, and each time my Mom (who has never had a serious illness in her life) would come and stay at my bedside for the entire time, staying for as long as a week, doing a better job at keeping me comfortable than the nurses.

I wrote some beginning stanzas as a way of starting a poem to thank her for that. For a while, I have had in my head the first lines (which lend to performance, so that helps) for a while. Since then, however, Mom has sat beside the deathbeds of both my father and hers, and the intent and voice of the poem has been changing dramatically. I’m almost afraid of how it’s going to end, if I ever do complete it.

AG: Is there a line of verse that keeps rolling around in your head? Is it yours, or someone else’s?

Chad: The rhythm of “I Have Been One Acquainted With The Night” is often in my head.

AG: Rhyming is...

Chad: Something that all poets should try, if only to discover how hard it is to write a good rhyming poem.

AG: If you could spend an evening dining with whatever poet you wanted, who would you eat with? Do you imagine this poet is any good at wine pairing?

Chad: Probably Philip Levine, who first made me realize that there are poets who write a kind of poetry that I wanted to read (and sometimes attempt to write). I don’t drink, unfortunately, but with his working class background, he seems more like a microbrew connoisseur at best.

AG: Do you think Slam (competitive performance) has brought poetry to the people, or had the reverse effect? Are people too worried about judges when they write?

Chad: I think if we had to judge, it would be more. Although I think we’re talking marginal numbers when compared to other arts, it’s very substantial when you consider the numbers at the Cantab Poetry Lounge any given week as compared to Stone Soup. Then again, when the slam actually starts before midnight, how large is that audience?
I’ve heard the stories about the difficulty in finding judges.

Slam always seemed to me like a successful marketing scheme. In Boston, at least, people first come to find out, “vhat ees, zis…slam?” but stay for the quality of the poetry. At least even the worst performance poetry tries to be interesting. Sometimes, at other poetry events it seems that the people obsessed with the “page vs. stage” arguments care a little too…little…about whether they are reaching the audience or not. It’s as if they said, “Hmmm. The performance poets try to be funny, make a point, and are interested with audience participation. Let’s do the exact opposite of that. That’ll show ‘em.”

I was not around when the slam scene first came into town. Michael Brown and Patricia Smith were at Stone Soup leading a slam at one time, and then they weren’t. I can’t comment anymore on the theoretical why of it without resorting to quoting confidences, whispers, and even backbiting from people who were part of or around the scene at the time. From what I’ve heard and later witnessed, though, I think that the over exaggerated backlash to slam poetry did far more harm than slam poetry ever could. I’m glad that the dividing lines seem more and more blurred as time goes on.

Any scene or clique has its good and bad people. Any that doesn’t will not last long. The worst slam/performance poets care about the judges. The best keep writing and remember the poems that got the best reaction from the audience during open mikes before using them in a competition.

AG: How do you feel about political poetry? Is all poetry political? (I heard someone say that). Is only political poetry political? Is it enough already? Is it never enough already?

Chad: I think the “all poetry is political statement” holds some truth. Even a throwaway poem’s very topic can tell a lot about a person’s politics. If a college student is assigned to write an “anti” type poem, and he/she writes about cafeteria food, is that person a sheltered Republican child (as some of my college classmates were), unprepared for the first time she has to actually work for her food? Likely, in my mind.

I think with the recent times, political poetry has become “faddish” with many like minds gathering together and allowing even not-so-good verse just to be in the company of those who assure us that something is wrong with our country and we. Are. Not. Crazy for thinking so. The attitude as of late seems to be that the election happened and that we can all go home now, the party is over (oh, is it?), enough with the political. Just as it will now harder for political types to get others on their bandwagon, it will also be harder for political poetry to be accepted. Just as well in both cases. We don’t want fads in activism or in the arts. We just want good work. I’d like to see more of both continue, especially since I feel this recent electoral “change” isn’t going to be what a lot of us are hoping it will be.

AG: People thought I was a weird child because I____________________________.

Chad: Would reenact action scenes from Marvel comics. When the poetry thing came around, I think people just nodded knowingly.

AG: When not doing poetry, how do you relax?

Chad: Computer games. I always have poetry and the promotion of Stone Soup on the brain. I would like to write other things someday (fiction, screenplays, even comics). Therefore, computer games are the one true anti-poetry, the one thing to take my mind off writing entirely. I’m glad I don’t do it as much as I used to, though. Sometimes, I think of all those unwritten poems due to all-nighters playing “Age of Empires.”

AG: Have you ever been on a team? What was that like? Where'd you go?

Chad: Never been, though I like hearing the stories when I get the rare opportunity to.

AG: The most important thing for a fledgling poet to have is ____________

Chad: A willingness to dislike what he writes and do better than the last “best thing” he/she ever wrote.

AG: In the future, where do you see poetry going? 10 years out? 20?

Chad: With technology, it will be easier to find. Whether it will be more read or heard is another story.

AG: Hottest verse you ever put out?

Chad: Hard to day. Sometimes the poems I’m proudest of never go over with people, sometimes they do. Well, “First In A Series,” A poem I wrote for a now ex-girlfriend, can be found online and remains a hit almost a decade later—even with new girlfriends (a fact I’m somewhat proud of).

AG: Worst?

Chad: Remember when I mentioned the poem I wrote in high school but don’t mention the title, and didn’t quote a single line?



Free spin; feel free to post a question as a comment, and answer someone else's!


Q: How long did you work on this questionnaire, you little narcissist?

A: Oops. Out of time.

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