Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Chad Parenteau: A Poet Who Is About Much More Than Publishing Himself.
Interview with Doug Holder
Chad Parenteau is among the “holy fools” in the poetry world who spends much more time promoting the work of other poets than he spends on promoting himself. Parenteau, 36, the host for Stone Soup Poetry, a populist poetry venue founded by the legendary poet Jack Powers in 1971 in Boston, has brought the venue up to a new level. He has brought in a new crowd while keeping the old, he has booked poets both emerging and established from around the country, and has started an online poetry magazine for Stone Soup titled: “Spoonful.” Parenteau holds an MFA from Emerson College in Boston, Mass., where he studied with such poets as Bill Knott and Gail Mazur. He is the winner of a Cambridge Poetry Award for his collection “Self-Portrait in Fire.” I spoke to Parenteau on my Somerville Community Access TV show “ Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.”
Doug Holder: Chad, you got your MFA at Emerson College. You studied with Gail Mazur, the founder of the famed Blacksmith House Poetry Series. How was she as a teacher, and a poet?
Chad Parenteau: Very interesting. She had quite a history -- she studied with Robert Lowell. That was her first year as a teacher—when I had her for poetry class. I had her class once more where I learned about Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. It was definitely a nice brush with history, as well as a crash course in poetry.
DH: Do you like her poetry?
CP: I don’t have any of her books, but I admire what she has tried to do in her work. You get a lot of people that say she has an academic style, but Mazur has her own voice.
DH: You have brought Stone Soup Poets to a new level. You have started an affiliated magazine: “Spoonful,” started a blog that highlights upcoming readers, you have videos of the readings online, etc… What brought you to Stone Soup? What is your vision for the series and organization?
CP: I came to Stone Soup to help it—in a response to a call for help. I was a friend with Lynne Sticklor, who was an Ibbetson Street Press editor, and Bill Perrault, who has produced the videos that document the series. They were looking for someone to do bookings, perhaps co-hosting, but due to Jack Power’s state of health, I stepped up to the post of host and Webmaster. What I wanted to do was make Stone Soup more open to the public. I didn’t want it to become an exclusive book club. I wanted to say if you have read at the open mic then you are a Stone Soup Poet. I changed “Stone Soup Poets” to “Stone Soup Poetry,” because I want to emphasize that we have a weekly event. It has been a long haul to get new poets and new voices in there. And it’s only been after 4 years that I feel like I have been successful. I have tried to include voices not necessarily in the Cambridge area—people might want to contribute sometime.
DH: Do you plan to come out with a print magazine for Stone Soup?
CP: The issue with a print magazine is money. And for everyone that says they want a print magazine—no one seems to have the money to buy it. I would rather do the magazine full force or not at all. I wouldn’t want to do some photocopy at work. The online journal Spoonful does reach a whole variety of people. It is going to be biannual as of 2010. I tried to do it quarterly. I have Lynne Sticklor who is a great editor.
DH: You were a newspaper reporter early in your career. Has that given you any tools for being a poet?
CP: I think it has helped to elevate and nurture my storytelling skills. I have never been much of a fiction writer—but I always tried to tell many stories. I did that with minimum success as a graduate student. I had better luck when I became more experienced. It was Bill Knott who said even if I didn’t succeed as a poet I could be a successful non-fiction writer. That—I took as a compliment. That was what I was doing at the end of my graduate study—telling a tale. I tried to write coherent poetry—not all over the place. I had a beginning and an end—I made sure there was a reason for both.
DH: You work at the VA with diabetics. How does this fit in with your writing?
CP: It was an accident. I was a waiter for many years. I answered an ad—and it was a good thing I did because I have very laid back and caring supervisors. It is also good because I am finally out of the starving artist mode—knock on wood. It has given me access to a world that I haven’t seen before.
DH: Which poets do you admire and influenced you?
CP: Philip Levine, Tony Hoagland,. I liked Levine’s working class poetry. That speaks to me more than the academic voice.
DH: Do you think that poetry can bridge the isolation and alienation we are feeling in this digital age?
CP: I think it can. I think that’s why I still do the reading series, and why I still believe in print.
The Convenience Store Girl
Don’t even risk a quick glance
at her much-too-mature breasts.
She knows your choice of poisons—
the canned insults to your mother—
you take home with you for comfort
because you can’t afford beer,
correctly guesses the days between
your visits on the way home,
could tamper with your purchase
before you know you’ll you buy it,
inject drops of revenge quicker
than you could at the restaurant—
those customers whose allergies
rhymed with all the unknown names
of every tree in their back yard.