Jesse Parent

Poet, Entertainer, Author yet his skills go beyond these labels. Explore the mindset of an amazing presence.

How long have you been performing poetry?

Jesse: I remember seeing a group called “Floetry” on HBO Def Poetry back in
2004 or 2005 and realizing I could probably use that overall structure
of poetry and music to developed an improvised theater format. In
2005, I work shopped a form I called “The Hook,” where a single poet
would go up and improvise a poem while a group of actress behind them
improvised a beat, melody, and chorus, which would then inform
improvised scene work. After touring this around the United States and
earning an Artistic Associate nod from the Chicago Improv Festival for
our work, I decided to try and see what I could do next with the
format by going to actual poetry slams. I went to my first local slam
in Salt Lake City in the winter of 2006 and made their team in 2007 in
time to attend my first National Poetry Slam in Austin. We came in
second to last (take that, Kalamazoo).

What are the titles of any books or chat books you have put out and
how can people find them?


Jesse: I have four chapbooks for sale in eBook format at
http://www.jesseparent.com titled Hit After Hit, To the Baby in My
Belly (You Were Delicious), Flattened Braille, and Ink on Paper. I had
a full length book through Sargent Press called The Noise That Is Not
You but I stopped selling it after the 5th printing.

What is your favorite poem to do on the mic?


Jesse: I have a poem called Coulrophobia which is a persona poem done from
the perspective of a creepy clown that has no idea how creepy he is. I
usually crowd walk at the end of the poem and try to find someone who
is either having fun or is terrified. This usually isn’t difficult
because folks seem to have very strong opinions one way or the other
about clowns.

What was your reaction when you first did a live taping?


Jesse: I remember trying to do a taping for the guy who had produced
SlamNation when I was in Austin at the 2007 National Poetry Slam. My
mouth was super dry and I had a hard time just performing for a
camera. It was an odd sensation to not have a crowd to feed off for
energy. I’ve gotten better at this, but performing for a camera with
no audience is still one of my least favorite situations.

How did you react when you did your first blooper on stage?


Jesse: When I first started, I had a very hard time recovering from any
situation where I did not recite the words perfectly. For an
improviser, this was a weird feeling because I figured I should be
able to adapt to any situation. I had to relearn that skill around my
own writing, where I began to take myself less seriously and just make
sure I got the gist of what I needed to communicate out so I could
move on to more memorized portions.

How did you react when you did your first blooper on stage?


Jesse: When I first started, I had a very hard time recovering from any
situation where I did not recite the words perfectly. For an
improviser, this was a weird feeling because I figured I should be
able to adapt to any situation. I had to relearn that skill around my
own writing, where I began to take myself less seriously and just make
sure I got the gist of what I needed to communicate out so I could
move on to more memorized portions.

 What advice do you give to virgins to the mic?


Jesse: Everyone wants you to succeed. It’s true. We get sick of each other
pretty quickly so when we see a new person with something new to say,
we get very excited. Even if you mess up, we are still on your side.
So have fun, try not to be a jerk, and welcome to the party!

How long have you worked with Button Poetry?


Jesse: Button Poetry first filmed my work in 2014, but I knew Dylan Garity
and Sam Cook for a couple of years before that. Sam and I actually
went to Canada to compete in a $10,000 grand prize poetry slam back in
2012, and I had met Dylan back when I made finals stage at the
Individual World Poetry Slam in 2011. So we were all friends before I
went to CUPSI in 2014 and they filmed me doing “To the Boys Who May
One Day Date My Daughter.”

You caught my attention with your piece ” To the Boys who may date
my Daughter”. What motivated you to write that piece?


Jesse: I wanted to do a poem that addressed the trope of the overprotective
father in both the heterosexual and homosexual dating arena, The
entire poem is built around setting up the last two lines. The idea
was if you feel this much love for a child in a relationship, you
should love them no matter who they love. There was also the aspect of
being over the top in a way that was unrealistic, but not everyone got
that this was satirical. But that is on me as the artist to provide
better clarity.

What won’t you perform on stage?


Jesse: I have a lot of early work that was informed by what I thought was
edgy comedy that is just so cringe worthy. I think we all have those.
So I try to just chalk those up to learning moments and put them in a
drawer for destination NEVER. I think that is a great aspect of slam,
because the audience and judges have no problem telling you when they
think you are performing trash. The trick is to listen to them and
either improve a piece or throw it away.

Where would you like to see poetry expand to?


Jesse: I’d love to see more narrative poetry that bridges into prose and
helps storytelling become more concrete and emotional. Poetry has so
many great devices, and multimedia adaptations like animations or
movie shorts can be so powerful when they are based on good poems.

What other ways do you channel your creativity?


Jesse: I have been doing improv comedy since 1992 and still perform locally
from time to time. I also have competed at the world level in public
speaking through Toastmasters International. I like to learn new
things that make me feel stupid or exposed like welding, sewing, or
blacksmiths. I think there is a whole world available and it’s
important to be uncomfortable in order to achieve real growth.

What’s one question you would want people to ask you and what
would your answer be?


Jesse: What is the one thing you miss about living in New England? My answer
is always the food. There are things I just can’t find out here in
Utah such as stuffed quahogs, chourico, and fried clams with bellies.
When I go back home I always eat too much because I miss everything
and want it in my body!

 Open Mic!!!
My daughter tells me she is non-binary
and I tell her… huh?
And we both sit in the silence.
In the music of language, this is an uncomfortable rest.
And after the dead air clears
my daughter holds up both hands.
10 fingers in total.

When we count to ten
we are just counting in base-10, decimal.
Humans like to count on their fingers
then round the loop to do it again.

When we count in binary, base-2, we still count to 10.
We just have fewer fingers.
1 – 10 – 11 – 100
We run out of room so quickly when we lack options.

And my daughter tells me
look at all these options
how the light mixes into new colors

In order to convert binary to decimal
You add powers of two based on the position of the one
Programmers will always tell you start with zero
2 to the zeroth power is 1
2 to the first power is 2
That means binary 11 is 3
It’s a little weird at first.
But you realize even in this limitation
there were always options

It isn’t that I can’t use she,
there was always a singular they
Even Shakespeare had a singular they.
It’s not that I don’t have a daughter,
I have a middle child
the 18 year old
the freshman
the former future veterinarian and current sign language interpreter
just like the former daughter is now my second spawn
See how the 3rd option was always there like 11

And my child holds their hands up like a magic trick
says watch my gender disappear
like a rainbow when you get too close

And I stand holding my two dumb thumbs
and I learn something new
how to convert my gendered language
I come up with my own tricks
imagine a mouse in my child’s pocket
so I always remember to refer to them as “they”
I cover my child’s gender
with a handkerchief in every conversation
never sparking the reveal
I saw my language in half and in then in half again
until my tongue folds into Zeno’s paradox

Sometimes the trick doesn’t always work,
and I stumble with the execution
back to just these clumsy thumbs
but my daughter
… my child
smiles,
corrects me,
and I try again
because they are magic
and gender was always just a sleight of hand, anyway

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