Poet of the Week: Rupert Fike

Rupert Fike’s collection, Lotus Buffet, will be published this fall by Brick Road Poetry Press.  Nominated for a Pushcart prize in fiction and poetry, his work has appeared in Rosebud, The Georgetown Review, Natural Bridge, The Atlanta Review, The Cortland Review, storySouth, and others. He has a poem inscribed in a downtown Atlanta plaza, and his non-fiction work, Voices from The Farm, accounts of life on a spiritual community in the 1970s, is now available in paperback. 

Rupert comes to us as a recommendation from former Poet of the Week Collin Kelley.  Be sure to send me information on anyone you think should be Poet of the Week.

 Poet on Poetry's Questions for Rupert Fike

1.               What inspires you as a poet?

I like being a reporter – I came out of Journalism school. Or maybe it goes back to kindergarten – Show and Tell. Eavesdropping can jump-start a poem. Plus I love biographies of writers, artists, their starts and stops, and of course the gossip. I just finished the new E. M. Forster bio, A Great Unrecorded History, - did not want it to end. Not that I go sifting for “material” – I just read and occasionally a factoid will percolate back up months later.

2.                What advice do you have for other poets?
Wow, tough question. I’m in awe of many poets and would never begin to even think about offering advice. We all have such diverse stories and ways of telling them – and that’s just the narrative poets! But when I go into schools I try to advise students to please remember the reader – that’s job one. Mark Jarman says, “The story is communal.” So I’m often telling writing classes to show the reader your cards, don’t withhold, allow the reader to be a full participant in the poem. Resist the urge to have an A-ha! revelation.

3.             3.                  What prompted you to start writing poetry?

I attended a few Sewanee Writers Conferences in the early 90s when I was devoted to fiction, Ray Carver in particular whose shadow seemed to blot out the sun. But it was the poets, Kumin, Hudgins, Hecht, Justice, Wolcott, Hadas, etc. etc. and their students (“We fight,”) they got my attention – the intensity, history, lit wars, schools. Plus Peter Davidson was there, and he had just written his exceptional account of the Boston poets in the 50s, That Fading Smile. I mean I kept sending out stories, but I started working more and more on poems, almost as a tribute, holding up my end of the dinner conversation. And I got to go back to Carver, the poet.

4.               4.               Where do you see yourself going in the future as a poet?

I’m working on a book of poems that’s actually unified – mostly first person accounts of life on The Farm, an over-the-top spiritual community (aka hippie commune) where I lived for nine or so years in the 70s.  I’m trying to use form (sonnets) as a means of addressing a famously unformal subject. 

         5.            What are your favorite poetry journals?

Cortland Review has great work and hi-res vids of stuff like Phil Levine walking you through his and Whitman’s Brooklyn, smiling at a line of people waiting for so-so pizza. And Poetry, storySouth, Earthshine, Rattle, Ouroborus Review, FutureCycle, New South, Bellingham Review, Atlanta Review, Stymie, Blue Fifth Review (full disclosure – half of those mags have rejected my work). 

  1. Can you tell us a little about the poems your chose to present today?  What inspired them maybe, or anything else you’d like to say about them.

Feedback came from a story that, after I repeated it to someone else, became indelible. I find that’s the thing with memory –telling a story just once will cement it. Then there was the thought of all those different artists in the 1940s creating an awareness at the same time without knowing each other.
The Cambridge poem tries to make fun of itself to escape being just a Cambridge poem. Why do we ever believe anything we’re told? And is such cynicism a strength? Forster has a Howard’s End character say, “I’d rather be fooled than be suspicious.” The Kinnell poem it references is sublime.

Rupert Fike's Poetry

As arguments at Shane’s Hideaway go,
this one was civil, the after-work crowd
debating which guitarist had first formed
an actual note from feedback, raw sound -
who had done it, tamed what’s infinite,
the Jeff Beck champions up by the taps
taking on two Dick Dale dudes by the limes,
until barmaid Missy from Sussex,
she of the half-shaved head and tongue stud,
declared us all, proper wankers, for not knowing
it was George Harrison, his lead-in buzz-whine
to I Feel Fine (an F#, she said) in 1965.

We were all pretty much afraid of Missy
so we pointed for another round
and kept it to ourselves that, wait, no,
it must have been Les Paul who more or less
invented the electric guitar.
Surely Les, early on, down in his basement,
was twisting knobs, messing around as usual,
the volume a bit cranked, the amp too close,
and here it came, Pluto’s underworld wail,
sine waves chasing their electron tails,
Les taking two quick steps back – there!
a sonic G, unmistakably a note,
all while Fermi pulled graphite rods from a core,
while Pollock dripped in two dimensions
this new world in a grain of sand, silicone,
what could be baked, sliced so thin, charged . . .
Les unaware, smiling at what he’d wrought,
Mary Ford yelling down the stairs again,
“Honey, please! You know that scares the cats." 

          You Probably Had to be There
                            - after Kinnell’s The Apple Tree
My Cambridge walking-tour stories fall flat
because I lack our guide’s posh accent,
her vowels so trilling, so rounded
you want to have upper-class sex with them,
enunciation as a force of persuasion . . .
especially for hopeless Americans
whose push-pull with the koan of nobility
mirrors the plight of UFO nerds at night -
they yearn for the ship yet fear the probe.

It’s the Newton legend that really flops,
how the gnarled apple tree by the old gate
descends directly, seed-to-tree-to-seed-to-tree
from the one that . . . well, you know . . .
For friends to accept this from my flat voice
would be to deny what we so treasure -
skepticism, the only thing holding us back
each time a Carnie yells, “Step right up!”

So no sale on the tree even though its apples
have obeyed a now-out-of-fashion law
(okay, light bends, but things still fall!).
They lie bruised, rotting, on their way to wine,
feeding Kinnell’s worms who emerge, behold:

                 creation unopposed,
                 the world made entirely of lovers . . .

Now there’s the target audience for yarns -
the smitten who stroll, bike, punt on the Cam.
Even when fed stretchers, obvious whoppers,
the lovers guild has standards, by-laws.
Their duty is to nod, to question not. 

Feedback originally appeared in
Earthshine and You Probably Had to Be There was first in FutureCycle. Both poems are in Lotus Buffet.

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Collin Kromke said...
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Collin Kelley said...

Rupert rocks!

Poet on Poetry said...

I so agree, Collin! I love Rupert's work!