Open Alphabet welcomes Rupert Fike and his recent book Lotus Buffet,
published by Brick Road Poetry Press (ISBN 978-0984100576).

Rupert Fike

Rupert Fike's poems have appeared in numerous journals, including The Atlanta Review, The Georgetown Review, Snake Nation Review, Natural Bridge, FutreCycle, and storySouth. He is an active supporter of the Atlanta poetry community, and regularly reads at the long running Java Monkey open mic in Decatur, GA. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize in both fiction and poetry, and he was a finalist for Georgia Author of the Year for Lotus Buffet. One of his poems has been chosen for an NPR anthology due out in late 2014.

Rupert's Voices From The Farm, is a non-fiction account of life on a commune in the 70's. He has also written several one-act plays, and conducts writing workshops for middle and high school students.

her vowels so trilling, so rounded
you want to have upper-class sex with them
-- from You Probably Had to Be There

Open Alphabet: Was this book going to be Lotus Buffet all along, or did the title come later? Lotus Buffet

Rupert Fike: You try to shoot for unification in collections, and gradually I realized I'd ingested a lot of substances in these poems - what also includes communion, my mother's morphine and even prayer to an extent. Plus our lives are like an extended buffet. And I suppose you could say (if we're being generous) that spiritual hippies were the modern equivalent of the Lotus Eaters from The Odyssey.

OA: What challenges did you face in putting it together? What do you wish you had known before you started?

RF: I love Sylvia Plath's letters as she's assembling Ariel - she writes that she keeps adding new poems she's excited about and dumping older ones she's bored with. So that happened. I also had to resist the temptation of appropriating overly-brainy or classical quotes as epigraphs, though I realize some writers come to such passages organically, and for that reason they work. But for me it would have been intellectually dishonest to spice in some pithiness from Euripides or whoever.

OA: In many of your poems you begin in one place and and time and end up somewhere quite different. I am thinking of poems like When You Wait Too Late To Go To LA (Santa Monica to Tifton, GA) and Origins of Hell (Sunday school to ancient Rome). Can you talk about how time operates in your poems?

RF: I was at a conference in the 90s with Stephen Dunn, and he kept telling me he could see where my poems were going - he said they were like trains, prisoner of their tracks, and he knew what station they were headed to. It took about five years for that instruction to sink in, for me to get into the straight line poem. I had to grow out of circling back, trying to be instructive, didactic. Which can make the reader argumentative. A good narrative poem benefits from the screenwriter's credo - "Get in late, get out early." And I think I just did it in this answer - ended up somewhere different than where I started, your question.

OA: In Beyond Geography: Why I’m a Southern Poet (Rattle #39, Spring 2013), William Wright makes the claim "there is no definable element that makes a Southern poet Southern, other than the geography he or she claims". Do you agree or disagree? Do you consider yourself a "Southern Poet" in any way that is not defined by GPS coordinates?

RF: William's great. I had to think about his quote a bit before I figured out that I agree. I'm certainly Southern - my grandmother knew Mrs James Agee in Knoxville (from the UDC!) and Margaret Mitchell in Atlanta . But to be classified as a "regionalist" can be a bit demeaning. Not that I have huge aspirations or God forbid, take myself seriously. Even the word, "poet" is loaded, especially if you've had the good fortune to brush up against*real* poets! Galway Kinnell is not a big fan of referring to himself as a poet. That makes you stop and re-assess right there. But I suppose we have to call each other something - I usually leave it at "I'm a writer." I try to tell stories while maintaining allegiance to the line. All hail the line.

OA: Later in the same article, Wright says that the South is "simply the landscape that supplied the tools to ignite the imagination". In your poems, location seems prominent. We always know where we are, whether Warwoman Dell, the docks of San Francisco, Burkina Faso, or a commune in Tennessee. How do you see place operating in your poetics?

RF: I went through Journalism school at the University of Georgia straight into newspaper reporting where one of the 5 w's was "where." So I guess I'm still programmed to set the scene without even realizing it. The physical place also helps me check against indulgent self-inspection. Place is vital to story - Mark Jarman says, "The story is communal," meaning the reader is an equal participant. I'm not saying narrative poetry is superior to lyric, that pendulum keeps swinging. Back to the reporter's 5 w's - the "why" can be a serious problem in poems, usually better to let the reader get to that themselves. There, now I'm totally off the subject of your question.

OA: "Lotus Buffet" is divided into two section: Notes to Seymour's Fat Lady and Draughts of the Warm South. Can you speak to the significance of each section?

RF: For a long time Seymour's Fat Lady was the book's working title, it kept me focused. Salinger meant so much to me growing up, that a writer could have conceived Holden Caufield's pure honesty seemed to me, at age 12, almost a miracle. I swore I'd read his next books which turned out to be the Glass family's encounters with Eastern religions. This deeply affected me in my teens and contributed to my running off to San Francisco to explore Buddhism and ending up on a spiritual community. I realized I had all these South-related pieces that should be together so this became the "Draughts" section although the line from Keats' Nightingale, uses the singular, Draught.

OA: Do you use syllabics in any of the poems in this book? If so, what do syllable counts bring to a poem?

RF: I do shoot for the ten syllable line, and it's now showing up in the way I think. But getting those ten to become perfect marching iambs is a big-time challenge that usually defeats me. But sometimes you get lucky. I see it as a check against logorrhea, what I'm susceptible to. I'm still thrilled by every one of Shakespeare's sonnets - how did he ever do that? I figure it's the least I can do, to try and reign myself in a bit. Get in on that centuries-long conversation we're all a part of. I think Robert McDowell said, "If everything's poetry, nothing's poetry."

OA: What are you reading right now? What is on your desk? desk

RF: I read several books concurrently - Borstal Boy by Brendan Behan, Zadie Smith's collection of essays, Changing My Mind, George Saunders' stories, The Tenth of December. A Shakespeare play is usually in my rotation. I adore George Elliot. And Victorian/Edwardian biographies - Hardy, Graves, Forster - so much gossip! I keep going back to the poems of Bob Hickok, Terrence Hayes, Barbara Hamby, Alice Friman, Robert Wrigley.

OA: Can you tell us about your next writing project?

RF: I'm working on a collection of personna sonnets, each from a different job or perspective on The Farm, the spiritual community, aka hippie commune, I lived on during the 1970s. I like the idea of the formal telling the stories of the famously informal, but wah, it's difficult, sonnets that is. I may fail, give up. We shall see.