Friday, December 2, 2011

Bat & Poet: A Conversation with Chad Parmenter

Chad Parmenter received his Ph.D. from the University of Missouri, and is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor at Luther College in Iowa. His poems have appeared in Best American Poetry, Harvard Review, and Kenyon Review, as well as being featured on Verse Daily. His debut chapbook, Bat & Man: A Sonnet Comic Book (Finishing Line Press, 2012), is a collection of poems based on the DC Comics superhero.

I first “met” Chad Parmenter in 2009. While preparing a class on contemporary formal verse, I came across Tony Barnstone’s wonderful article in The Cortland Review, “A Manifesto on the Contemporary Sonnet: A Personal Aesthetics.” Barnstone included Chad’s wonderful “A Holy Sonnet for His New Movie” in his article, and spoke of a collection called Batsonnets. Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight had come out just the year before, so you can imagine my delight. Most of my students were batcrazywhat a wonderful way to do what Barnstone was suggesting to make the old form new.  In particular, I had one student who was a rabid fan, and I wanted him to read not just the poem in Barnstone’s article, but the whole collection. I searched and searched for it everywhere, but could not find it. Finally, I found Chad Parmenter on Facebook, and eventually discovered the collection was still in the manuscript stage. Chad sent my student an autographed copy of the manuscript for his birthday. Holy batkindness!

Imagine my delight again when, just over a week ago, Chad contacted me via Facebook to let me know the collection had found a home, with none other than my old friend, Finishing Line Press. The collection, due out February 2012, is now available for special preorder from FLP’s website, and features the wonderful artwork of Mark Cudd. Being a superhero addict myself, I immediately asked Chad if he would agree to talk about the collection for this blog.

Q: Talk about your subject matter—what say you to the claim that poetry and comics don’t mix? Do you worry about labels like “serious” when it comes to poetry?

A: For me, growing up, reading comics was a serious thing--it gave me an escape that I absolutely needed, being a shy kid with thick glasses and little to no idea of how to talk to people. Batman, in particular, appealed to me because of his ability to turn completely from one person into another by putting his mask on. Poetry provided me with some of the same things, and has since then—serious play, maybe.

Q: A related question: Many critics believe that American poetry has drifted away from the American public. How do you see your work in relation to the public’s tastes? Did you have a specific audience in mind as you crafted these poems?

A: Good questions! I'm still not really sure who I write for; I do it because I enjoy it a ton, and writing a bunch of poems about Batman appealed to me as a fun kind of challenge. My favorite audience is whoever wants to read the poems, and the idea that it's not a lot of people kind of appeals to me somehow—I grew up with poetry as something that not a lot of people read, and that gave it an indy sort of feeling that I think is still with me.

Q: Why Batman?

A: Batman popped into my head one day as a topic to aim at, and most of me instantly said, "don't do that, it's off the map of what you've been reading and there's no way you can get a bunch of poems out of it that will be any good." So part of my brain seems to have taken that as a dare, and run with it, and kept running. In the process, I found a lot about both Batman and the scared kid I was when reading him that still really draws me—persona, how to deal with loss, and how to negotiate darknesses of different kinds.

Q: Why sonnets?

A: I've written a number of free verse poems about Batman, but the sonnet seems like a form that really fits with him, and maybe the superhero as a subject (Bryan Dietrich starts his book, Krypton Nights, with a sonnet crown that really helped me to read). Superheroes, and superhero narratives, follow strict rules, and tend to follow them mostly the same way no matter what; life gets inserted into that formula, and it changes the formula a little bit, but the formula wins out. I love that!

Q: How is your Batman different from other representations?

A: D.A. Powell wrote a poem involving Batman, and Bryan Dietrich did, too; there may be other Batman poems out there that I'm not aware of, but both of those poets have helped me by treating Batman as a malleable character, and one to be taken seriously, not just as a kind of campy figure. I'm pretty much following their leads, and using Batman as a kind of malleable figure, if that makes sense.

Q: What advice would you give to others who are interested in writing about similar themes?

A:  Kevin Young, when I asked him that question, said, "Get obsessed," and that worked for me! I devoured Batman media of different forms, and tried to write about it from a bunch of different angles, until something seemed to click.

Q: What’s next for you, now that the book is coming out?

A: Thanks; I have a full length Batman collection that I'm shopping around, and a couple of other manuscripts that are also each explorations of a single topic"my America," about photographer Edward Weston, and "Vivienne's Recovery," an homage to T.S. Eliot's wife, Vivien Eliot.

Q: Whom are you reading?

A: Right now, I'm reading Shakespeare, Ovid, a little bit of Heidegger, a bazillion different contemporary poets including Meghan O'Rourke and Rodney Jones, and, if this counts as reading, playing Batman: Arkham City on Xbox 360.

Well, that explains a lot. Talk about a postmodern aesthetic. That is what appealed to me about Chad’s poetry in the first place, and it’s a common thread through all the works  of artists who engage with pop culture: fluidity. There is nothing worse for art than codification. Art dies when artists stop pushing at the limits of how it is defined. It takes an agile mind to see the perfect fit between the sonnet form and the comic hero the way Chad explains it above. Thanks, Chad!

Read some of Chad's sonnets at Diagram, and check out more of Mark Cudd's beautiful work here.


  1. I like this! Have you discovered Kim Bridgford's sonnets about movies and Ripley's Believe it or Not? Less "bang-pow, Holy Petrarchian End-Rhyme, Batman!" but terrific ways to show how vital and contemporary this form can be.

  2. BTW, Chad if you are reading this--my absolute favorite is the Zorro poem. Tyrone Power needs to be mentioned in more poems.

  3. Whoa! Bang! I visited the Ripley's museum in St. Augustine about five years ago, and looooved it. Must check out Bridgford. Someone needs to put out an anthology of pop culture sonnets. (Hint, hint!)

  4. Thanks so much, guys! Your comments are really kind.


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