April is here! And to kick off National Poetry Month in PL of E’ville world, I interviewed Rick Lupert, a poet and publisher who has been tirelessly involved in the LA poetry scene for twenty years. He is the founder and editor of poetrysuperhighway.com, the recipient of the 2014 Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center Distinguished Service Award, as well as the author of 16 collections of poetry and the editor of several anthologies. More about his books here.
Something I find amazing about Rick is his dedication not only to his own community in LA, but also to a greater, international community of writers. He is in it for the long haul. I mean, this guy is not afraid of commitment. So I talked with him about his work and the source of his poetic staying power.
SK: Why poetry?
RL: Oh my god! You’re right…I never thought if it that way. I hate poetry…no wait, I think it’s because of my own attention issues. There’s no need to binge-read poetry. It’s easy to digest and has served as the perfect outlet for my own short-form observations. I love the idea of saying as much as possible with as few words as possible…the economy of language…the sparseness….the single line, image or idea that speaks an entire world.
SK: Congratulations on your award for Distinguished Service! You have been the host of the Cobalt Cafe reading series in LA since 1994 and the editor of Poetry Superhighway for nearly just as long. How and why have you been able to stick with those all this time?
RL: Having history with something is really cool to me. I moved a bunch of times when I was younger. My mother couldn’t hold a job so we kept moving apartments. I had no chance to develop history with a place. I hate the idea of temporary stuff.
Many journals and reading series come and go. I see no reason to end these things and look back on them nostalgically. When I don’t have time to sit down and write, it keeps me exposed to other people’s poetry. The most important thing you can do to be a better writer is to read other writers. It keeps me connected to the world of poetry which will eventually lead me to a poem.
SK: For such a creature of habit, you seem to be most prolific when you are outside of your normal life. Many of your books read like travelogues–Fargo, Paris, etc.
RL: When I am on vacation, everything is fodder. When I am outside of my element, it’s easy to pull the spectacular out of the mundane.
SK: Who are your favorite writers?
RL: Richard Brautigan for his humor, absurdity, perpetual left turns, and staggering pain. Brendan Constantine, the poet’s poet , for his ongoing education in the possibilities of poetry. Jeffrey McDaniel for his dark, David Lynch-like humor, for making us revel in devastation. Douglas Adams for the joy he brought in the slapstick and silly.
SK: Who are you reading right now?
Mostly it’s poetry submissions from every corner of the world to Poetry Super Highway. I am nearly through with Jeffrey McDaniel’s newest collection “The Chapel of Inadvertent Joy.” I also just finished the chapbook “The Place We Begin” by Hope McLeod from Washburn, Wisconsin. She sent it to me as part of the Poetry Super Highway’s Great Poetry Exchange in which participants send their book of poetry to another randomly selected participant. She’s got a great poem in there called “Blue Lake Bean Seeds” in which her dog comes back as a green bean tree. (sort of.)
SK: Any tips for writers before submitting their work to literary journals?
RL: Read and follow the guidelines exactly. Every publication has slightly different guidelines which they set up to stream-line their own process and the large volume of work that comes in. Not paying attention to those specific guidelines for that particular publication, even if they vary only slightly from another publication, makes more work for those editors and is often an immediate path to having your work rejected unread.
Read the publication you’re submitting to. Do you like it? Does the work they publish speak to you in a way that resonates with your own work. It’s not that every publication only publishes one particular style, but if you’re submitting to something called “The Dead Blood Anarchist Death Zine” which has politically abstract angry verse, and you’ve got rhyming love-sonnets, you might not be sending your work to the right place.
SK: You have embraced technology over the last decade and more with PSH and Cobalt. How do you think technology will change the poetry publishing landscape in the next 5 years? Have you seen the future–Jetsons or Star Trek?
RL: I think definitely Star Trek. Mainly because so much of what was in there is already part of our daily lives. I was going to say “except warp drive” but a few weeks ago I saw an article about how that’s being worked on. And “except holodecks” but there are virtual reality headsets, Google Glass, etc. Add to that “communicators”, which we all have in our pockets and purses, tablet computers, 3d printers, etc., and we essentially have all the things we fantasized about when we first saw Star Trek.
I think technology has already dramatically changed poetry and publishing. Online publications are flourishing. ANYONE can publish a professional quality book and have it distributed on Amazon at absolutely no cost. The giant chain bookstores are closing because of the availability of product online as well as the shift towards ebooks. The technological revolution is already old-hat.
SK: Any new projects on the horizon? What would you like to accomplish in the poetry world in the next 20 years?
RL: I’ve got a new book called “The Gettysburg Undress” coming out soon on RothCo press. These guys are the real deal with unique ties to the entertainment industry and a deep love for poetry. I’m very excited about the possibilities. I’m not sure about the next 20 years…that’s a long time…but in the immediate future, I’d like more of what I do for a living to revolve around poetry. I’m just breaking into the world of touring as a poet and being brought to places as an artist-in-residence. It’s awfully exciting and brings a lot of weight to my involvement in poetry as a big part of my identity. Plus I’d like to own a small Island that has monkey butlers on it. (Though I’d give them a lot of time off and try to respect their needs.)
SK: Which musician(s) would you like to cover your poems?
RL: I would be insanely honored if any musician decided to cover anything I’ve done. Recently Michael Isaacson, a big mucky-muck in the world of Jewish music with some Hollywood score credits under his belt, asked for some of my poems so he could set them to music. I’m not sure it’s actually going to happen, but it’s incredibly awesome to have been asked. Actually more than having a musician cover my work, I’d love to be able to collaborate with musicians to mix my spoken word performance with their music, weaving poems and songs together to create something cool. Plus it would be great if Jane’s Addiction’s next album was all covers of my work.
SK: What would you be if you weren’t a poet?
RL: That’s easy because I’ve already got these other hats on–husband, father, graphic designer, Jewish music teacher, world traveler, food eater, air breather, etc. I think everything informs everything else. Every experience you have may come out as a poem, or a painting, or a drawing, or a story or in the way you interact with others. We are all poets.
If you ever have the opportunity to see him read, Rick’s dead pan delivery will have you rolling in fits of laughter on the floor. His poems are witty, sharp observations of the world around him. All subject matter imaginable is fair game when it comes to his work. After two decades committed to the creation and promotion of poetry, Rick knows a thing or two about verse. Hear him read his “Rules for Poetry” here.
And for inspiration through the rest of National Poetry Month, go to PSH’s Writing-Prompt-a-Day.
And when you have been sufficiently inspired, and you do indeed write some new poetry, call into his monthly BlogTalkRadio show to share your work.