Five Questions for... Rupert Fike

Rupert Fike's debut collection, Lotus Buffet, is out now from Brick Road Poetry Press. Order your copy at this link.

Who the hell do you think you are?
Oh God, that’s the question I spent too much of my 20s and 30s mud-wrasslin’ – was I a radical hippie? Hubby/Daddy? Spiritual Student? Now though, at least in the writing life, I’m thinking I’m a Reporter (I majored in Journalism at UGA). And since I just read that Mary Oliver sees herself that way, I’m all over it!

Your debut collection, Lotus Buffet, has been a long time coming. What took so long?
Well it just kept evolving as it continued to be rejected or not win contests – oftentimes editors who send your stuff back are doing you a grand favor. Earlier versions just were not ready. Collections need to have some semblance of unity – it took me a while to first understand then try to achieve that goal. I once sent out a collection titled, Poems in English About Humans – there, I thought – a unified theme!

You have a poem about the photo on the cover of Lotus Buffet which precedes the copyright page and table of contents. Tell me about the link between the photo, poem and collection as a whole.
It’s a photo my grandfather took in 1912 of the lab at his med school so I’m honoring him, while the counters with old microscopes etc. link to the image of a buffet, not of food but of the science that’s produced various mind-altering substances, ones I’ve sampled along the way, ones that sent me down a certain path. Odysseus had to go “rescue” some of his enraptured men from the island of the Lotus-Eaters, but nobody ever came and got me. Of course communion is also a substance that has altered me. There are several poems regarding prayer in the book as well, prayer as substantive stuff, a dish on the buffet.

Your poems are full of pop culture references, riffs on the Beat Poets, religion, sex. Tell us a little about where your inspiration comes from – is it memory, research or just acid flashbacks?
Ginsberg, Whitman, Louis Simpson, Elizabeth Bishop, to name just a few, and performance-wise – Spalding Gray who I shamelessly steal from, along with the exasperation riffs of Dennis Leary and Louis Black. Plus I’m in debt to the creative jolts that come from open-mic scenes like Java Monkey and other venues here in Atlanta – those communities force you to produce, match speeds with a talented bunch of people whose focus is to entertain and get to it quickly – sometimes the spoken word riffs can become poems or visa versa. I love literary biographies. They’re full of catalyst stuff. As is Lil Wayne’s ongoing story. As is Doug Sahm’s of the Sir Douglas Quintet who performed (at age 11) onstage in the last show Hank Williams ever played. I just found that out. Stuff like that is crazy. But it might not make a good poem. Ideas are everywhere.

You're well known for editing the book Voices from The Farm about living on the famed commune in Tennessee in the early 70s. How did that experience influence your poetry? 
The Farm was a radical social experiment in All Things in Common where we had no personal money and signed vows of poverty. Then we neglected our own well-being while trying to set up clinics and soy dairies in third-world countries, some of which are still going. Not that I wrote during that decade – artistic expression was well, frowned upon. But those years grounded me in how the physical world works – mules to carburetors, birthings to combines. Right now I’m trying to use sonnets to tell those individual stories – the formal in service to the notoriously informal. Hippie war stories can be off-putting, understandably, to many readers, so my idea is hide behind Petrarch while doing it. He was kind of a proto-hippie himself, doing things like climbing a mountain just for fun. Plus sonnets are innately limiting – they deny logorrhea, one of my not-so-great habits – as you can see in these answers!

Rupert Fike will read from Lotus Buffet on Tuesday, Sept. 27, at the Decatur Library as part of the Poetry Atlanta Presents... series in conjunction with Georgia Center for the Book. For more details, visit this link.

Comments

Living far from USA, never heard of this poet before. Now I am very keen to read him!
Lisa Allender said…
Rupert's riff on "Toast" is NOT to be missed! :D

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