No Speed Limit: Rick Lupert and Poetry Superhighway
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO START POETRY SUPER HIGHWAY (PSH) AND WHY THAT SPECIFIC NAME?
I didn't so much “start” the Poetry Super Highway as “realize” I was starting it. When I started my own website "Lupert: It's the Website" (a play on the name of my first book, Paris: It's the
Cheese) I wanted to incorporate elements from all [my] interests and involvements, and poetry was one of them. So, I created a section of links to other poetry related websites. I emailed everyone I knew in the poetry community and asked them to send me any poetry links they knew of. I had no specific intention of creating the huge database of links I have now. I realized quickly in this venture that the key to a successful website [is] frequently changing content. It's one thing to get people to come to your site...but a whole other thing to get them to come back.
The name Poetry Super Highway was a play on the Internet's nickname at the time (Information Superhighway).
WHAT WAS PSH LIKE AT THE BEGINNING? HOW DID IT EVOLVE INTO THE ALL-ENCOMPASSING POETRY RESOURCE IT IS TODAY?
Obviously, I wanted people to come back to my site so I started brainstorming other ways to have changing content. The links section was one way. (In fact, the direct URL to the PSH main page still is PoetLinks.html, a remnant of when it was just a section of my main site.) I decided to feature the work of other poets on the site. I knew how eager I was to get my work published seen by other people so I thought this would be a great way to build traffic. It was.
The submission load was large. I quickly moved from featuring one poet a week, to two, and have been doing so ever since. As new sections were added (The bookstore, chat room, webrings, forum, contest, Great Poetry Exchange, etc.), I soon [became] aware that the site had grown far beyond my original, somewhat non-altruistic, original intention of building traffic to “my” site. So, the mission was developed: to expose as many people to as many other people's poetry as possible. This is the purpose of the Poetry Super Highway. I may get a few extra hits on my personal site—books, etc.—as a bonus, but the real intent is to service the mission.
YOU'RE THE FOUNDER AND BIG CAHUNA, BUT HAVE YOU EVER HAD/HAVE ANYONE HELP YOU WITH PSH? DID ANYONE OR ANY PUBLICATION INFLUENCE THE GROWTH OF PSH? IN WHAT WAY?
I've had help with certain components of the PSH but for the most part it's been all me (baby). I always recruit judges for the annual summer Poetry Contest; both because I think it's important that, especially for the contest, several sensibilities are utilized in going through the huge volume of submissions, and also because I couldn't possible do it myself. Also, many individuals and organizations have been helpful in donating prizes, books, services, etc. to the annual contest and Great Poetry Exchange, which helps make those projects successful as well as further the mission. The benefit of doing the rest of the work myself is the speed [with] which I can make and implement decisions without waiting for the input of others.
No one publication or individual influenced the growth of PSH, but many of its elements can be found elsewhere on many different sites and so, I suppose, the growth came as a result of my ongoing exploration of many other sites since the beginning of time...err...that is since the PSH started in 1997.
WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS FOR PSH? DO THEY KEEP CHANGING, OR HAVE THEY STAYED CONSISTENT THE ENTIRE TIME? IF THEY'VE CHANGED, HOW SO?
The main goal is to expose as many people's poetry to as many other people's poetry as possible. Since I realized this goal fairly early in the history of the site, it has remained the consistent idea behind all of the Poetry Super Highway's components.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR GREATEST DISLIKE WITH PSH? YOUR GREATEST SATISFACTION?
The volume of poetry I receive for Poet of the Week consideration creates a two-fold dissatisfaction. First, with so much poetry coming in, I have to read a lot of poetry [that] I don't like that much. (Not fun.) The other part of that is that I also receive so much poetry that I do like a lot, and I can't publish all of it.
My greatest satisfaction is the positive response the site has received from the world's poetry community. I think it's awesome that so many prizes are donated by so many poets to our annual contest, enabling us to give at least one poetry-related prize to every single contest entrant, regardless of [the] poem's score. This also led to the same sort of system created to our “non-contest,” the Great Poetry Exchange, in which for no reason at all people send a book to another randomly selected poet in exchange for receiving one. I'm sure some folks might get something they don't care for, but the vision of poetry books winging their way, simultaneously, all over the world to randomly selected poets, I think, is really cool.
WHAT IS YOUR CRITERIA FOR SELECTING "THE POET OF THE WEEK”?
People who send naked pictures of themselves are automatically published. Beyond that, I prefer to publish poetry that I enjoy reading. I don't pay much attention to someone's previous publication credits or involvements. I rarely publish rhyming poetry...not because rhyming poetry is wrong...but just because I usually don't like reading it. I sometimes try to match two poets who I think complement each other well. If I've got a group of poets I'd like to publish, I'll sometimes look at their location and try to select two from areas/cities I haven't featured recently. I tend to not publish poetry about the darkness in people's souls...especially if it uses the words "darkness in my soul." It's quite possible there's nothing wrong with these poems, but I try to avoid work with too much (or sometimes any) cliché words or phrases in it. Sometimes, if poets are writing about a similar theme, I'll choose to put them up together. The opposite holds true as well. Sometimes I'll put up poets whose work has little in common, if anything. I love putting up poets who've never been published before (though that's not part of the consideration, rather an afterthought once they are chosen). I especially love this when it turns out I'm publishing them with a more established poet. Sometimes I'll put up a poet who is writing about a current theme, such as a holiday or recent world event. I publish an annual Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) issue. For this issue, and this issue only, I suspend some of my opinions about the poetry and publish a piece from almost everyone who sends in a submission for it. In this case, I feel the topic is so important that it's more important for people to remember and respond than to worry about whether I personally like the poem or not. On a rare occasion I'll publish work which isn't necessarily my favorite, but I recognize [that] it's good work and should be represented.
I save all submissions for six months after I receive them for new consideration each week. I'm too chicken to send out rejection letters, so if someone isn't published after six months, they should realize that I'm not going to publish work from that particular submission.
I rarely bother to read work from people who don't follow the submission guidelines. Every publication has its own specific publication guidelines designed to make the workload smooth and easy for that particular publication. Some of these guidelines between publications may be completely opposite but I feel [that], out of respect for the publication, it's vitally important that anyone considering submitting work follow those guidelines.
WHAT IMPACT DO YOU THINK PSH HAS HAD ON THE INTERNET POETRY COMMUNITY?
Poetry Super Highway was not the first online poetry site and with the explosion of the Internet, undoubtedly, for the internet poetry community, it's had no impact at all. However, I do receive regular correspondence from people who tell me how much they've enjoyed the site, or found it useful in finding other poetry sites to visit, or reconnected them with long lost poet-friends. Some people have even told me that visiting PSH has inspired them to create their own websites (personal or online publication).
When someone creates their own poetry space on the Internet as a result of being inspired by my site, then certainly this helps with the mission of exposing as many people to as many other people's poetry as possible. I try to run a site which is consistent to its mission, and consistent to the integrity one would hope for in the best publications. I hope that people will (or even have) used that model as they've participated in other web publications and created their own.
WHERE DO YOU SEE THE FUTURE OF MODERN POETRY HEADED?
It's a good question, [and one that] I'm not sure I'm capable of answering. It seems to me in today’s world, where truly anything does go, that modern poetry has no limits (other than the ones individuals apply to it). Certainly, the most extreme content and language has been utilized in modern poetry. Form is both cherished and completely abandoned, and the exploration of new forms is alive and well. My friend Brendan Constantine came up with an exercise for his poetry workshop in which the participants write a poem meant to appear on the side of a building, taking into consideration the unique shape of the building, where windows and doorways might appear etc.
I think there will always be conflicting schools of thought on what IS poetry, perhaps between poets who value form, to others who don't...between rhymers and non-rhymers...the MFA crowd and the blue collar writers. I'm just not sure what new ground will be covered. It seems to me that the revolution has happened and people will either participate in it or not.
Oh, and I also predict [that] within five years, my personal poetry will be regarded as the ultimate standard for all art in every medium and people will begin mailing me gold bars.
Rick Lupert has been involved in the Los Angeles poetry community since 1990. He served for two years as a co-director of the Valley Contemporary Poets, a 24-year-old non-profit organization that produces a regular reading series and publications out of the San Fernando Valley. His poetry has appeared in numerous magazines and literary journals, includingThe Los Angeles Times, Chiron Review, Zuzu's Petals, Caffeine Magazine, Blue Satellite, and others. He is the author of nine books: Paris: It's the Cheese, I Am My Own Orange County, Mowing Fargo, I'm a Jew. Are You?, Stolen Mummies (Ain't Got No Press), Lizard King of the Laundromat, Brendan Constantine is My Kind of Town (Inevitable Press), Feeding Holy Cats, and Up Liberty's Skirt (Cassowary Press). He serves on the Artist and Community Advisory Council of Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center in Venice, California (though he's not sure how that happened or what it means). He has hosted the long running Cobalt Café reading series in Canoga Park since 1994 and is regularly featured at venues throughout Southern California.
Rick created and maintains the Poetry Super Highway, a major Internet resource for poets. http://PoetrySuperHighway.com
Currently Rick works as a music teacher at Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge and the Valley Cities Jewish Community Center in Van Nuys, as well as at Hillel of Pierce and Valley Colleges as the Assistant Director.