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Rick Lupert: California Poets Part 5, Five Poems

Rick Lupert (photo by Alexis Rhone Fancher)

December 22nd, 2022

California Poets: Part V

Rick Lupert

Five Poems

Poem to be Read to Telemarketers I'm not interested in that, but would you mind if I read a poem to you? It's a first draft so you’ll understand if it's rough around the edges. As long as I have you, would you be interested in buying one of my poetry collections? Your voice reminds me of the moon.

Toe Eyes We dine at Toe Eyes restaurant at the Singer compound. Everything is pre-planned. The salad, the single mushrooms. The fact that we can pay using our phones even though we were handed the local currency prior to stopping in. We don’t have avocados says Ella. She is the proprietor and has been planning this for weeks. The specialty is Cotton Candy Pizza alarmingly, served with mushrooms. We are offered veggie bacon and then the restaurant is abandoned for the drawing station. She draws a butterfly and then everyone agrees next should be a baby butterfly. Addie gets to sign her name and Ella asks what about the ‘aunt’ part. I’m not sure who has adopted who here but both of them are on board. No one knows what happened to the ears on Ella’s doll. No one really needs to know. From the forthcoming book “The Low Country Shvitz” (2023 / Ain’t Got No Press)

The Olympics Wake Me Up This Morning The Olympics wake me up this morning They came to my hotel room and did gymnastics on the bed. I don’t know who gave them a key. I recognized the announcer’s voice from when he was on the TV. It was a thrill, to say the least. Tickets are usually so hard to get. Addie heard and rushed in. She apologized for the commotion (as if the Olympics are her fault.) Jude stayed in the other room clearing his throat. It was a little early for me as I usually don’t have the Olympics over before coffee. (And they didn’t want any) So I faced them towards the window and went to take a shower. From the book “I Am Not Writing a Book of Poems in Hawaii” (August 2022 / Ain’t Got No Press)

It May Rain Addie says there is a fifty percent chance it will rain every day of our vacation. That’s right, it’s a vacation, so I hope you appreciate that I’m doing all the work of writing this book while on vacation. I’m writing it for you. Speaking of you I hope it’s not raining where you are. Unless you like the rain, in which case I hope it’s raining as much as you want it to. As for me, although I understand the southwest is running out of water which is why we decided to let the lawn go here in the southwest, where I am writing this book, even before the vacation starts because there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you. I think I lost track of where that last sentence was going. I hope to take time away from writing things down, to lose track of things. Anyway, I prefer it not to rain, but we’ll pack umbrellas just in case. From the forthcoming book “The Low Country Shvitz” (2023 / Ain’t Got No Press)

For Sunflowers Once I stood in a field of sunflowers outside of Fargo, North Dakota. I’d always dreamed of doing this but sunflower fields are so hard to come by in Los Angeles, so outside of Fargo, North Dakota, it had to be. I’d say it was worth it. I’d say, at the time, it was the best day of my life. Sure, there have been noteworthy highlights since then, but foresight means nothing when you’re standing in a field of sunflowers. All there is is them and you and, if you’re lucky someone taking the picture so you can prove even just to yourself, that it happened. Sunflowers may be the boldest of flowers and, if you let them, they’ll grow taller than all of your relatives combined. I wouldn’t hold that over them (figuratively) but you’ll know it’s true. The yellow petals like a million suns stretching out over the entire midwest. The huge dark centers like eyes beckoning to the bees to keep this whole thing going. Another time I planted a single sunflower in my front yard. It grow then dropped its seeds and soon enough a forest of them showed up. I stood in the middle in yet another one of the best days of my life. It made me forget all about the time I planted them in front of my cabin at summer camp and eventually bunnies came and ate all the sprouts. Who could blame them? That’s what I’d do, if I was a bunny or any mammal and those big beautiful things came along.


August 23rd, 2023

California Poets Interview Series:

Rick Lupert, Poet, Editor

interviewed by David Garyan

DG: The Poetry Super Highway has become an invaluable resource for writers. Can you talk about how it all started and what it takes to run an organization that’s always in the process of growing?

Thank you for that. Poetry Super Highway grew out of my own personal website which I launched near the beginning of the public internet. I realized quickly that the key to a successful website was changing content so people would have a reason to come back. I added a section with links to my friends’ poetry website, and then invited them to send poems which I would display in a “Poet of the Week” section. Turns out people enjoy opportunities to share their work and it quickly grew to a “Poets” of the week section. It wasn’t too long before I realized I had created an online publication which needed its own separate website.

It’s grown a lot since 1997 … it’s easy thinking up a new idea for the site … but, of course, it’s work implementing that idea, especially if it’s an annual one. I compartmentalize when I do the work so it doesn’t take over the rest of my life. My wife laughs at me when I think up something new which will lead me to a new weekly task I have to do forever.

DG: For years, you’ve hosted the well-known Cobalt Café reading series. How has organizing reading events and serving the community in general informed your own work?

Probably the most important thing you can do as an artist of any kind, besides spending time creating art in your chosen medium, is to spend at least as much time exposing yourself to the art of others in that medium. Organizing the Cobalt Poets series (which I hosted live and in person at the Cobalt Café from early 1994 until the venue closed at the end of 2014, and has lived on as a successful weekly Zoom series since early 2020) has kept me constantly exposed to the work of others. As with any art, it’s all subjective … not good or bad … just some of it is for you and some of it isn’t. Hearing poems within every stopping point of that spectrum has had a huge impact on my work as I learn from other poets new ways to think, observe, and write, as well as, sometimes, examples of what I don’t want to incorporate into my work. Both are invaluable.

DG: Humor is an ever-present feature in your poetry. At the same time, every reading changes the dynamic of poem. Does the performance aspect ever consciously influence what you put down on the page, or does the page always hold ultimate primacy in driving the content?

I often, when writing, hear the poems out loud, or even stop in the middle of writing them to read them out loud to hear how they sound. I want to make sure they work going into someone’s ears. It’s hard to know how others might read them when I’m not there personally delivering them with my intended pauses and intonations. I’ve had the experience (a number of times) being in an audience where another poet has chosen to read one of my poems as part of their set. Besides the huge honor of that, sometimes I think that’s not how that was meant to be read, or they should have paused there. My hope is that the poems work just as well on the page, but I’m aware that I have little control over how someone else receives the work out in the wild.

DG: On your website, readers can access eight of your books for free. In a commodified world, this runs contrary to logic, and yet, for poetry it makes absolute sense. Do you think the biggest publishers can use this strategy to bring more readers to poetry or do you think readership comes down to more than just accessibility?

You know what, you’re right. I’d appreciate it if anyone reading this could please electronically send me a good deal of money. Thank you.

I put out a free e-book every year which is a sampling of new poems written since the previous e-book came out, and, usually, a preview of a few poems in an upcoming book. I think anyone planning on getting rich through poetry may need a reality check. The most successful of us have to, at least, have teaching jobs to pay the rent. I think just having eyes on poems is more valuable than making money from them. I also think the free e-books are a good promotional tool which, if someone enjoys them, will make it more likely that they might purchase one of my full collections. This will, of course, lead to a small amount of money coming my way which I can then use to make a down payment on a nice meal which basically means, in a small way, I’m literally sustaining myself through writing poems.

DG: Apart from poetry you also work on a daily web comic called Cat and Banana. It’s humorous, fun, and entertaining. Only two questions: Why a cat and why a banana?

You may have to ask my son about that. He’s 14 now. (or maybe 15 by the time anyone reads this.) When he was 4, we were sitting at dinner telling jokes. He wasn’t quite sure how a joke worked besides the basic format of someone saying something, often as a question, and then someone laughing after a response was given. So he blurted out What did the cat say to the banana? The answer was meow which made a lot of sense to me and immediately had my mind wondering what those two might actually talk about. I messaged Brendan Constantine (my partner in all things ridiculous) with an emergency request for artwork, and by the end of the day there was a website, Facebook page, and I had written ten strips. I’m not sure I know why a cat and why a banana, but perhaps their ongoing conversation will eventually reveal all.

DG: There is a poem, “Dear Los Angeles,” in your 2006 collection To Hell With Rick Lupert. It captures the excesses of a city many dream of. The poem ends with this line: “I have to close my suitcase now.” What makes Los Angeles such a great, and yet difficult place to write, and do you ever see yourself leaving the city that has fueled your poetic development for so long?

Dear Los Angeles was one of the last poems in my print collection I’d Like to Bake Your Goods, poems written on my honeymoon with Addie, and previewed in the e-book To Hell With Rick Lupert. There’s a nostalgia in it which I often feel at the end of the vacations I’m lucky enough to go on every year with Addie. Or maybe in this case, a longing …I’m dreading the end of a vacation in which my only responsibility for a couple of weeks is to feed myself, and also, perhaps, longing to get past all the rigamarole of tasks, packing, ground transportation, etc … which I’ll have to get through to be back and comfortable in my home city. Most of my books are travel books … poetic travelogues written on the ground with a full and complete collection ready for editing by the time I get home. It’s ironic, perhaps, that I don’t have a book of poems about Los Angeles … or perhaps every other poem I’ve written is about Los Angeles, or informed by my presence here. (I mean, when I’m not writing poems about the weekly Torah portion.) For sure, Los Angeles deserves a book. It has everything … and if you don’t like any of it, surely just head to another neighborhood to find a completely new set of everything that you may like. Once you’ve got your niche in Los Angeles, you’re set. I’m not sure I could live anywhere else, mainly because I’d feel like I was cheating on Los Angeles. Though every time I travel, it’s always with an eye of could I live here?

DG: Indeed, only poets are capable of having the type of humor that allows them to give away their books for free while also jokingly asking fans to send them money in the mail (in the interest of mystery and intrigue I won’t give away where it says that on your website), but has anyone ever taken that seriously and sent you something? It would make for a good poem, I think.

I wish I had read this question before asking people to send me money three questions ago. Now it feels like I’m a one joke pony. I wonder if ponies tell jokes in their own language. Oh, no … now there needs to be a new comic strip Pony Tells Jokes. So much for my free time … I think I could work on this on Thursday mornings. Anyway, send me all your money, people. It’s important. I take Venmo.

DG: Some of your poems are dedicated to Brendan Constantine and he, likewise, has a lot of praise for you. The work you both write has some similarities, but it’s also very different. What makes Constantine’s poetry so special and how has this friendship influenced your own writing?

There’s no person who has had a more profound impact on my poetry, and maybe even my thinking in general, than Brendan Constantine. (Except for perhaps Addie who, for most of my travel poems, I’m just quoting her and adding line breaks.) The way his mind works and receives the world is always surprising, frequently hilarious, and often beautiful. Brendan is an ongoing education in the very possibilities of poetry. He teaches, not just by teaching in actual teaching settings, but by his example. Many times, when I’m writing a poem, when I read it out loud as I mentioned earlier, I’m imaging that I’m reading it directly to him. He’s my favorite audience.

DG: Apart from Cobalt Café, you also run a variety of other workshops. It would be interesting to hear about some of those. Surely, there must have been some good poems that came out of those? And friendships?

I sometimes get to lead a workshop, especially in the Jewish community. I think I’ve only got so much to teach other poets, but for the less experienced poet, or person who hasn’t yet discovered poetry, I think I can help remove some of the fear that comes along with the word poetry … show it as an accessible, interesting, and sometimes, entertaining art form, and create a space where anyone feels what they are doing is legitimate and has value. Of course poems of every goodness level have come out of those experiences, and yes, even better, real human connections with people. Those are the best.

DG: What are you reading or working on at the moment?

Well I just completed a long interview for INTERLITQ which I’m about to send off. I didn’t proofread it so I hope that it’s received well. I mostly read poetry submissions, but late at night I like to sit in my comfy chair in the other room and read a few pages of something or other. I’m having a hard time getting through one of Anne Rice’s later Vampire Chronicles books as she’s spending about six hundred pages just describing cameos. So I’ve been putting that down and reading a poem or two a night from Jeffrey McDaniel’s latest collection Thin Ice Olympics. It’s really good!

Author Bio:

Rick Lupert has been involved with poetry in Los Angeles since 1990. He is the recipient of the 2017 Ted Slade Award, and the 2014 Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center Distinguished Service Award, a 3 time Pushcart Prize Nominee, and a Best of the Net nominee. He served as a co-director of the Valley Contemporary Poets for 2 years, and created Poetry Super Highway. Rick hosted the weekly Cobalt Cafe reading for almost 21 years which has lived on as a weekly Zoom series since early 2020. His spoken word album “Rick Lupert Live and Dead” featured 25 studio and live tracks. He’s authored 26 collections of poetry, including “I Am Not Writing a Book of Poems in Hawaii,” “The Tokyo-Van Nuys Express,” and “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion” (Ain’t Got No Press) and edited the anthologies “A Poet’s Siddur”, “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah” and the noir anthology “The Night Goes on All Night. He also writes and draws (with Brendan Constantine) the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” and writes a Jewish poetry column for He has been lucky enough to read his poetry all over the world.


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