Saturday, June 29, 2013

Patron Emeritus By Chad Parenteau


Patron Emeritus
By Chad Parenteau
FootHills Publishing
Kanona, New York
71 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Minimalist poems, like those in Patron Emeritus by Chad Parenteau, imbue each word with a density of meaning that demands resolution and balance. Without careful calibrations stanzas would fall off the page and punctuation could explode. Parenteau not only avoids these pitfalls but successfully plays off the tension created by them. At heart these poems are narrative, although the stories, culled from the common experience of day-to-day living, the poet rubs raw, dices, compresses, and then highly polishes.

Parenteau, who hosts the famous and long-running Stone Soup poetry readings in Cambridge Massachusetts, connects with the deceased originator of that venue, Jack Powers, in his first poem. There is sensitivity here and also a not unexpected validation. The poet says,

Thought I saw you
walking taller, talking clearer

nearby crutches
lady at your table

cowboy hat
ten gallon  paladin

head weighed
nodding toward me.

In the poem entitled Manifesto Parenteau navigates two different venues of performance poetry with unabashed excitement and, interestingly enough, admits to liking the comfort and inclusion of committee work. Of course society is really a set of self-appointed committees so why not. Here are the pertinent lines,

I strafe both sides
one-way streets
run down

crop circles
slim pickings.

Committees agree
I do my best work
when in committee

belonging still…

I like the use of the crop circle image. Like some open-mike participants they appear suddenly at night and take surprising shapes.

Even charged language can be funny. In Parenteau’s piece Come Lately the persona-host of a poetry reading venue is at his wit’s end on a particularly bad night. I’m guessing Stone Soup.  Here’s how the poem begins,

Scant showing
only host pays
success insisted on.

Those closest
edge forget
no hands

left to hold
let alone signal

what they know

Of course the production of a comedic scene is at the host’s expense and due to his very earnestness and caring nature.

Another humorous poem entitled Working Late struts out longer lines and a less compressed syntax. It is one of a handful of exceptions to the poet’s prevailing style. The poet’s persona, making a living like the rest of us, works in a lab. His duties include prepping hamster cages. But in reality our poet thinks subversively and has other agendas. He identifies with the intruder, the outsider. I’m shocked! The poem ends this way,

…the empty cages always need
water freshened, new shavings every week,
more if we have a visit
from the department head.

Sometimes I’ll mess things up,
leave a cage door open, watch eyes,
mouse braving the climb to
the desktop,
pupils growing large
while sniffing my similar stare
before scurry escapes.

Any worker worth his salt knows how to hide from his boss and steal precious moments of humanity through imagination or creativeness. The poet in his piece Passing has chosen one of the most common of all havens—the bathroom. Parenteau describes his sanctuary,

Bosses wait for
bidden bathroom
you rinse meeting off
face,  unsmear specs.

They know you
door closing there
they are

talking by door
cordially predatoral…

The poem Air Lines begins with the passengers vaguely fearing discovery and surrendering their metallic implements and ends with their expected arrival in Pittsburgh, the city built on the melting of metals and its own factory-employed citizens. Parenteau catches the unease felt by many air travelers perfectly. In this context even nature’s controls become dangerously businesslike. The poet explains,

travelers cringe at thought
added contact, padded shells
hard complimentary cashews

muttering minor turbulence
as if nature were bureaucracy
bringing us to Pittsburgh

another mill town in search
of purpose its people long
melted down

Another airport terminal. Another flawed city. The poem Not In Denver attributes Parenteau’s unpleasant work experiences to the soullessness of his surroundings. His world weariness is evident. Yet his observations, wry visions, and the way he holds fire at the end seem to imply future hope. Here’s the conclusion,

World like
forget face
looking between alarm
clock stings
hand smashed poise.

Revolving doors
state soul
water bodies
looked nice
all I’ll say.

Parenteau romps over the page in the poem Phoning In. His sparse wording hits all the right notes. The poet’s persona calls in sick. His attitude mixes anger, wit, imagination, and misery. The misery seems to be more job-related than illness-related. Here’s how the poet starts off,

Calling sick
citing teeth marks,
yesterday’s wolves.

Shoulder bites
sting more recalling
pat shoulders.

The point again? Explain
more they ask your
chewed foot.

The title poem, Patron Emeritus, deserves to be the title poem. It speaks to Everyman. A poet must make do as a citizen of life. He faces internally as an artist must, but he also must deal with the external and, in that realm, hug, revisit, forgive, and remain his own person. A coffee shop represents the universal backdrop of the poet’s existence. As patron emeritus he settles in for the duration in spite of past difficulties. In a steadying voice Parenteau briefs us on how it feels,

Sitting down
finally unfamiliar
feels immune.

The manager said
Your firing was inevitable.

Ask for him
Demand halves
Take everything…

Like gem stones the hard knocks of life shine with intensity from these accomplished poems. Get yourself a coffee. Make sure the boss is not around. Then read this book.

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