Vlad Interviews Chad Parenteau

Vlad Savich: Chad, please tell me, are you glad that you were born? 

Chad Parenteau: A question like that should be answered in one word, but with me I need to elaborate. I’m very lucky to have been born at all. My parents planned on only having two children. They had my sister, then my brother, who passed away shortly afterwards at the hospital. Had he lived, they wouldn’t have bothered having me. My father guaranteed it with surgery that I was their last child. I went through my twenties (and probably some of my thirties) feeling like I was on some kind of borrowed time. Now I’m just doing my best to run out the clock with some class.

VS: Tell me how Chad Parenteau the writer began. Where are the sources of poetry of your work.

CP: How did I begin? It was in high school 1987 when a friend either volunteered or was asked to write a poem for the school newspaper. I took it up and wrote a pretty sub-par poem, but people liked it. I got the idea that it was something I was good at during a time in my life where I wasn’t very good at anything else. In reality, I wasn’t very good, but I had over a decade to fake it (to others and myself) until I had something resembling skill.

The source of poetry in my work, ironically, probably stems from my insistence in being a poet despite a growing lack of any reward in it. It seems the more I get better, the less of an audience I have to appreciate it. I persist anyway with the hope that poetry will make a comeback.

VS: What do you think is more important for an author: a huge number of books, the love of readers, a huge bank account or something else?

CP: Everyone has their preference. For me, it mattered more to not continually lose money doing what I do (which until now has at least been successful). I do want to write more books because I want to have more to show for all the work I do. The thing I would like most, the love of readers, continues to elude me. I crave that more than financial success. Both may be equally unrealistic fantasies as a poet, but I still hope.

VS: Nulla dies sine linea. Not a day without a line.  Can you live without writing poetry?

CP: Yes, but not very well. I know because there were a few years after college where I wrote barely anything. Today, even on weeks when everything goes well with my job, my relationship, my friends, my family, it’s the same. If I don’t write a poem, a haiku, an article, or even an extended blog post, nothing will feel quite right.

VS: There is a popular theory of parallel universes, where our doubles live. Would you be friends with your double?

CP: Cartoonist Eddie Campbell once did a sequence with his autobiographical stand in going back in time to smack his younger self (with his even older self trying to stop him). As someone now in my 40s, I have that urge to go back in time and punch my younger self. How I’d feel against a same age, alternate version of me would depend if he’s better than me, equal to me, or someone who never finally started maturing in his thirties. Also, taking into account my answer to your first question, it’s altogether possible I may not exist in many alternate realities, so I might even come face to face with the brother I never had. That would take a longer answer and maybe even a poem or two.

VS: You have two options. First – to be a super hero. Second – to be a great poet. What would you choose?

CP: I’ve read more than my fair share of comics, and the Superman I read had godlike powers but chose journalism/writing because it was something he could do and compete with others on an equal level. I’d choose to do super-heroing and do poetry on the side. Probably with the same level of success.

VS: Could you sacrifice one moral principle for the sake of another, or is universal harmony worth the tears of one tortured child?

CP: I think most harmony is built on someone’s tears, whether it’s an entire country or a single household. We’d rather be happy at a party than ask the saddest person in the room why they’re sad.

VS: I lived in the USSR. For me it was hell. Now I’m living in Canada, which for me is a paradise. Where the best place for me is I haven’t decided yet. Is the US hell or heaven for you?

CP: I think it will be a hell for a lot of people I know if we’re not careful. It will be less hell for me, if only due to my skin color, but that doesn’t mean I should tolerate that.

VS: I don’t think poets aren’t born. They need to learn their craft. Who were your teachers? What poets influence your creativity?

CP: When I went to Framingham State College for my undergraduate degree, I became indebted to Alan Feldman for being merciful to my work.

I later went to Emerson College for my MFA. I had good teachers in Gail Mazur and John Skoyles, but I had Bill Knott as head of my thesis committee. He admitted in front of Mazur and Skoyles (who were also on the committee) that when he first read my work for his workshop he thought “this guy’s terrible.” He did his best to make it up to me. People have horror stories about Knott, but sometimes you have to thank the people who kept you humble.

In later years, I had the opportunity to study under such local greats as Tom Daley, who helped me produce work I’m still proud of post-MFA, and Ron Goba, who helped me complete my first book.

VS: You work with words. How do you think the words reflect their true meaning?

CP: My ultimate goal is to create a work where it’s meaning is exactly what I intended it to be. While it’s interesting to have your work reinterpreted under numerous perspectives (including perspective that comes with the passage of time), I think it’s the goal of any writer who cares, even if it is an impossible goal.

Once at Framingham State, I was in a class where we had to write a nonfiction narrative. I turned in an account of the time a girl I was friends with–and interested in–ended up hooking up with a classmate I knew. It was during a get-together I invited her to at a local pond in Franklin, Massachusetts, a town close to where I grew up and also where I worked at a local pizza chain.

When I was finished with the story, the teacher joyously declared in front of the class, with a huge grin on her face, “This is a story about poor white trash!” It shocked and embarrassed me, but it taught me a lot about intent and what other people see beyond your printed words.

VS: I live in Quebec. I hear the French language everywhere. Is your last name French? Tell me, if possible, about your pedigree.

CP: Sadly, I’m of French Canadian descent, and I don’t even speak French. My sister told me Spanish was easier as I was entering ninth grade, and that was it for me. I’m learning more about my background. Thanks to a relative who did research a while back, I found out one of my descendants may have served under Louis Riel. I need to dig up more, and I need to actually visit Canada.

VS: What do you think poetry will be like, let’s say, ten years from now?

CP: It will likely exist as an audio/visual art, the way places like Button Poetry are already starting to present it, voices and faces performing for the highest bidder, the printed word only messing with a performer’s meal ticket. I have a face made to hide behind the printed word, so we’ll see if I have a place in poetry ten months from now, let alone a decade.

VS: Artists are endowed with a mystical consciousness which helps them foresee the future. Is there a possibility that ten years from now our world will disappear?

CP: Whatever mystical consciousness I have is reserved for being able to see the present as clearly as I possibly can. Given what I see right in the world right now, all I can say is, I hope not.

VS: My childhood idol John Lennon wrote   

Imagine all the people

Living life in peace.

Many friends of mine tell me: This is a utopia. Do you think the same way?

CP: I don’t know if I believe utopia is possible. Sadly for Lennon, it may not be as easy as he said. Has anyone tried it yet?

VS: Why you don’t try to make a reality out of utopia? After all, we came to this world to do it better.

CP: All I can do is treat the people around me well. If people around me don’t reciprocate, then I’ve done all I can.

VS: The Russian poet A. Pushkin loved the beautiful autumn. In that autumn was the most workable. 

A melancholy time! So charming to the eye!

Your beauty in its parting pleases me –

I love the lavish withering of nature,

The gold and scarlet raiment of the woods

Chad, do you have a favorite season of the year?

CP: I tend to loathe the summer, so I generally tend to look forward to the fall and the early onset of winter cold. Over the last decade, I’ve had my share of sad falls and winters. Still, in spite of a surprisingly prolific summer, I’m holding out hope for a good fall to help close out a rough year.

VS: Many of the classics use obscene language. How do you feel about this?

CP: I guess it depends how it’s used. Hell, even Shakespeare got in a c-word in Hamlet via wordplay!

VS: Should censorship exist or should the author himself should be a censor?

CP: I think authors censor themselves whether they realize it or not. That’s why we get pissed when outside forces do it. We don’t want any more help.

VS: What for you as a writer means “Freedom of speech”

CP: For me, it’s the freedom (hopefully coupled with ability) to speak out when something feels wrong to you. you may be wrong yourself, but hopefully you’re coming from as pure perspective and motive as you can muster. Hopefully you aren’t just fighting for the freedom to shout racial slurs or insult random people at will with immunity, which seems to be the banner too many Americans are taking up nowadays.

VS: The USA today is the world hegemon. In light of this, what American literature must be?

CP: I am in no way worldly enough to answer this question.

VS: Which classic literary author would you want to talk to?

CP: Hemingway, just to get a clear contrast between today’s world and the one before it. James Joyce also, because I get the impression that there would be no formality, no pretense, and it would be a raucous talk.

VS: Sometimes I think: What would I do if I knew this was my last day on earth?

I couldn’t find the answer. Maybe you have it?

CP: For me, I like to hope it would be going down fighting.

Chad Parenteau is a poet who lives in Boston.

Image via Alec, by Eddie Campbell, 1984.

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