Updated: Mar 30
Inside the amazing brains of
Zvi A. Sesling & Chad Parenteau
Zvi A. Sesling, Brookline, MA Poet Laureate (2017-2020), has published numerous poems and flash/micro fiction and won international prizes. A five-time Pushcart Prize nominee, he has published four collections and three chapbooks of poetry. His flash fiction book is Secret Behind The Gate. He lives in Brookline, MA. with his wife Susan J. Dechter.
“Zvi Sesling is the master of the
narrative poem ending with a surprise
and wise last line. Wait for it.”
~ Rosie Rosenzweig, author of A Jewish Mother in Shangri-la
BLM: How important is it to you that people read your books?
ZS: Every writer wants people to read his/her books. For me, if even one person reads my book and likes it I feel as if I have accomplished my goal. That said, the more who read my books and like them, the happier I am.
BLM: Favorite movie adapted from a book?
ZS: I would say Goodbye Mr. Chips. I read the James Hilton book in my teens and saw the 1939 movie starring Robert Donat and Greer Garson in my twenties. It is, to me, the ultimate love story, at the same time a fantasy and everyone’s hope for meeting their soul mate. It’s a story that never grows old and has been copied in many ways a number of times.
BLM: What do you feel is your best poem, and why?
ZS: I feel I have written a number of “best” poems most of which appear in The Lynching of Leo Frank and in War Zones. Of these probably “My Jewish Blood” which reflects not only my Jewishness, but recounts the history of antisemitism throughout the world is my favorite because of its strength and purpose.
My Jewish Blood
My Jewish blood boils
like oil used to feather
like flames from the stake
like the ovens of my family’s demise
My Jewish blood is not black
like hearts of bigots
like bullies in cities
like gate keepers of ghettos
like cold blood of Inquisitors
My Jewish blood, passed from
father to son and daughter
from the Tribe of Benjamin
from the desert
from the River Jordan
My Jewish blood has been dispersed
into the soil of Russia
into the rivers of France
into the synagogues of Poland
into the stained earth of German
My Jewish blood has been infused by my ancestors
who endured what I refuse to endure
who succumbed to that which I will not
who could not be free but whose legacy is my freedom
Chad Parenteau's first chapbook, Self-Portrait In Fire (based on his MFA thesis) won a Cambridge Poetry Award, and his work appears in anthologies and online and print journals. In 2007, his poem "Moonlighting" was on display at Boston City Hall as part of The Mayor's Prose and Poetry Program. 2008 saw the publication of his third chapbook, Discarded: Poems for My Apartments from Červená Barva Press. In 2011, a catalog of his work was added to Framingham State University's Alumni Collection at the Henry Whittemore Library. Recently, his light verse has appeared in such venues as Salon. His first full-length collection, Patron Emeritus, was released in June 2013 from FootHills Publishing. He is the current host and organizer of Stone Soup Poetry, one of the longest-running weekly poetry venues in the state.
"For many years Parenteau has been the patient, whimsical master of ceremonies at the Stone Soup Poetry Series. From that perch he takes the pulse of our moment and brings both a Walter Mitty everyman stance and exasperated sarcasm to Trumpian America."
~ Judson Evans, Mortal Coil
BLM: How much of your writing is based on personal experience?
CP: All of it. At this point in my life, I think any poet who says their work isn't at least partly autobiographical is either lying or detached from themselves. I can't just write about nature and flowers without thinking about global warming and whether a particular plant is going to die on my lawn days into the ever-increasingly hot summer. And I certainly can't write about the last five six years of politics without thinking how my very perspective estranges me from about 90% of people I grew up with. The personal is political, is nature, is everything to what I write.
BLM: What was your favorite book when you were fifteen?
CP: I can usually pin down every book I read to a certain time period. School becomes more and more of a sad blur as I get older. I always enjoyed Lloyd Alexander's The Chronicles of Prydain, which I bought from a book club in fifth and sixth grade. I was picked on for my tastes in fantasy. That may have deterred me from reading besides comics for a while. I read at a low level in High School. Before I knew I wanted to write, I didn't seek out literature, only reading what was placed in front of me. I appreciated books like The Witch of Blackbird Pond, which a teacher assigned the class around that time. Even as I tried to refine my tastes in literature, I kept one foot in fantasy and science fiction, which my high school library had a section of. I would read Vault of the Ages during my study periods. Then I graduated to A Wrinkle in Time, which impressed me so much. Hard to answer, but like I said, a sad blur.
BLM: What do you feel is your best poem, and why?
CP: Freddie Mercury was interviewed when he coming out with a solo album. They asked him which of his songs did he find the most rewarding. He replied, "I don't know...the one that sells the most." It sounds shallow, but I could relate to this as my "favorites" are often the ones that receive the most acclaim. An old poem that got published in four different places. The one poem that was accepted in a print publication that never accepted my work before (and hasn't since). The one that everyone laughs at. The one that got quoted on Facebook and then had a commenter attribute me as the author.
Then there are the ones that no one got or liked or wanted to publish. Jerry Seinfeld once talked about of of his favorite jokes that never did well when he performed it on stage. He likened it to a little bird that failed to fly and crashed to the ground, but he took it home with him, nursed it and tried to take it out to the open again and again.
There are poems of mine that have landed with a thud and birds that will never leave the cage out of fear for their weak lives. My favorite bird of this kind is a poem I wrote in 2003. I was less than a year back in Boston after leaving for a few months to pursue a doomed relationship. I wrote it staying overnight with the friend who took me in when said doomed relationship made me move out. It was my first attempt to write something in a style I never tried before. It also incorporated much of my life, including one night when I was locked out of my apartment on one of the coldest night on that year's winter. No one liked it. No one I sent the poem to wanted it. No one liked it as much as I did. It's still one I love because like all of my poems, it was a stepping stone to write better work. One of the bigger ones, in my mind.
Late At Night In the hospital where I work and stay after hours, I wave my way past the third shift, security guards better suited to summertime lawn chairs, content to pass on bounties for potential enemies of the state. I behave too much these evenings, would rather run the streets, cuff the ears of all who yell into cell phones with headsets, screaming about all things mundane, homogenizing madness by imitating the destitute, who at least profess to quote God. I want to wander neighborhoods, gather and discard bags of baking soda left at doorsteps and in mail boxes by each other’s neighbors, too bored to share anything but anthrax rumors. While my family waits up to insist I still have a curfew, I hide in empty exam rooms, rest on examining tables, pockets emptied, turned inside out, ensuring it’s the one place where no one tries to fix me.