Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of interviewing the poet, artist, and prose author Philip LoPresti. LoPresti’s work more or less introduced me to the weird and seriously dark world of Dunhams Manor, a press I still rely on for my regular dose of disturbing and experimental art. I couldn’t imagine a more fitting author to kick off the ongoing series of Silent Motorist Media interviews. Without further ado, buy LoPresti’s new self-published book, A Creeping Plague Will Take My Place, check out his art website, and enjoy the ride.
I avoid creating at all costs.
Me: Obviously, you just self-published A Creeping Plague Will Take My Place, which is your older poetry books plus some new material. Is there anything specific you want to tell your readers about this release?
Philip LoPresti: Originally, I had no plans to do something like A Creeping Plague, but I kept getting asked about my chapbooks after they were out of print, both by people who never got a chance to buy copies and by the people who did, but just wanted to see my work back in print. There was a bit of resistance from me at first because I sort of view those books as not all that good. But once it became a regular thing for people to keep contacting me, I decided that, regardless of my feelings, there are people who are still interested. The photography and new poems that were released with it was a way to give the people who bought the originals a bit more incentive to buy again if they felt inclined to do so.
Me: I remember on my end of the spectrum as a relatively new Dynatox fan how much of a stir your decision to pull those books caused. A lot of people were worried you were quitting the poetry scene for good. Was that ever your intention, or did you know you would return to it?
LoPresti: I think it is always my intention to quit creating, period, but that never works out. When I finish something, be it a poem, story, photograph or painting, I always claim it is my last. Creating really takes it out of me, mainly because I just don’t think I’m that good, and it causes depression from constantly second-guessing everything I do. I seem to be one of the few who doesn’t actually like to [create]. I think it is more of a need to do it than wanting to. I avoid creating at all costs. It is one of the reasons it takes me so long to finish anything.
Me: That’s amazing to me, although I do understand feeling inadequate artistically. You, however, seem to have always found a devoted audience with your work. Is that an outside looking in thing, or does a willing audience simply fail to mitigate the discomforts of creating new stuff?
LoPresti: Whenever someone has nice things to say to me about my work, I really do appreciate it, but it does very little for my self-esteem. For most people, it would boost their confidence, but it does nothing for my ego. I wish it did. No matter how many compliments I get, it can never overpower the self-hatred I have for myself and what I create. I have severe issues with that. The “nothing good can come from me” mentality. It sounds so lame and cliché but it is a thing I deal with every day. Did I even answer your question? Ha ha.
Me: You absolutely did, I think. I partially understand. When people tell me my work is good, I have a hard time believing them. I couldn’t say it torments me though. In your poetry, particularly, I think I get a sense of this deep-rooted vehemence. That’s exactly the element, however, that sets your work apart from other dark poets. I’ve read tons of poets who use violent imagery and shit, but very few of them actually achieve a truly visceral, I’ll say “atmosphere” for lack of better word. This is probably a cliché question, but do you feel like your antagonistic relationship with creation actually makes your work more “real?” I know it’s hard to answer questions like that, but do you feel like some of the animosity is what actually drives your work?
LoPresti: Thank you for the kind words. The fact that you used the word “atmosphere” gives me a bit of a smile, because if there is one thing I actually try to do with my poetry and even my prose, it is to create an atmosphere regardless of whether what it contains makes complete sense to the reader. But, to answer your question, I absolutely think that it is a factor in what drives me to create. a love hate relationship. After all, you can only hate what you love.
Me: The “only love what you hate” was going to be my next point word for word, ha ha. Your focus on “atmospheres” brings me to another question I wanted to ask. Ginsberg wrote in his diaries (I forget of what year) that he didn’t worry about poetry’s formal elements but just wanted to squeeze words into images. Are these “atmospheres” images or more like headspace or emotional states? In other words, how deliberate is your process? Do you start out with a specific image, or just try to fully embody an emotional state?
LoPresti: I think it varies from poem to poem. My second book, I Am Suicide, was very much about an emotional state. A lot of the poems in that book were written in one sitting. Not the entire book, but rather each poem was written in one sitting, and this is still the only time I’ve done that and it is why it has a more raw, rapid-fire delivery. [Because of that, it’s also] the only one of my poetry books where most of the poems are pretty easy to understand what I’m trying to say. In the other books there is more an emphasis on atmosphere and images, and [they] are a bit harder to crack in terms of their meaning.
Me: I Am Suicide is the one I happened to revisit for this interview. These poems definitely have a vicious, incendiary aspect to them, but also manage to feel unrushed in composition. I am actually surprised you wrote these in one sitting. This brings me to another question that might seem a bit off topic, but I’m looking at your oeuvre on Amazon right now and I have to ask: How does it feel to have a book on Amazon selling for 1,710 bucks? Multiple books, actually, above the thousand-dollar range? Ha ha ha.
LoPresti: Ha ha. Are the prices that high now? I think it is ridiculous for someone to honestly think they are going to get that much for those books. I mean, a first edition of a Mark Twain novel wouldn’t sell for that much. Or maybe it would. I wanna know who makes these prices up. I’m inclined to think it is a moron who has never read them, because if they did they’d be throwing them in the trash instead. Sometimes people think because something was limited and now out of print they can get crazy amounts of money for it. But that only works if you’re a well-known writer. Not some shmuck who writes about hating himself and eating his own semen. The prices were another reason I released the collection.
Me: Hopefully the rerelease will squash the price gougers, ha ha. Let’s switch over to your art for a minute. You work in a variety of media. Do you have a preference? You seem to have been pretty consistent in putting out photography, even when you aren’t writing. Is it your favorite?
LoPresti: I don’t know if I favor it more than any other creative medium, but the one thing I love about it more than the others is there is more room for experimenting without the feeling that you’ve wasted time and got nothing done. With writing, for example, you can spend hours trying to write, changing passages, rewriting dialogue, thinking of what comes next and at the end have no workable material. With photography, you can spend hours setting something up, or messing with aperture and shutter speed and still get at least one good shot. Plus, the act of taking photographs is a lot more fun to me. I don’t put pressure on myself as much.
Me: That is definitely a good point. God knows how many hours I have wasted over a canvas only to shove it in some corner of the garage never to see the light of day again. My paintings suck. I’ve always been struck by the settings in your photography. They largely seem unified, at least where you aren’t using models, by a rural landscape. Do you just go on walks out in the country and snap what catches your eye, or do you have a specific scene you set out to capture?
LoPresti: For the rural shots and the grainy blurry shots I do. I usually just go out on walks, often with my iPod, and just fire off shots when something catches my eye. Sometimes I get them from the passenger seat of the car if my girlfriend and I are driving. In the photos I use models for there is often an idea ahead of time. Especially the ones used in the new poetry collection.
Me: The dark, occult, horror theme seems to pervade your photography; your painting, however, is more boldly abstract and vivid. Is there a reason for this disparity of atmosphere? Is painting something that just “feels” different, or do you have a separate set of creative goals you address in your mixed media?
LoPresti: I think it comes down to influence. I think my photography is more influenced by the images in horror films and the atmosphere in horror films, where my paintings are more influenced by other abstract art. But with painting, I don’t really think about it much. I kind of just dive into it. I’ve tried to figure it out myself because I’ve noticed the vast difference.
Me: What are some of your influences? You mentioned horror movies, which ought to come as no surprise to your readers and your Facebook followers. You’ve often been the first person I tag when looking for new horror movies. Your recommendations are always spot on. But what about painters, poets, and prose authors?
LoPresti: Ha. So, so many. I always try to participate in those top 10 lists people do on Facebook, but I can never do it. Too many great artists out there working in all mediums, but off the top of my head: painters: Jean Michel Basquiat, CY Twombly, Jason Craighead, Gunter Ludwig, to name a few. Poets: Jim Carroll, Georges Bataille, Arthur Rimbaud, Anne Sexton, and Prose authors: Tom Piccirilli, Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor, Cormac McCarthy, Edward Lee and Joe Lansdale, William Burroughs. I wanna go on and on.
Me: That’s a solid list, there! I love Bataille. He’s a huge influence in my critical essays. They’re actually releasing the letters of the Secret Society of Acephale this month! I’m so excited. Flannery O’Connor is a pleasant surprise! Of all these, McCarthy is probably the one I see the most. Blood Meridian was fucking life changing for me. I can definitely see the aesthetic there. Okay, here is the LoPresti-specific question: what horror movies should we be watching?
LoPresti: Oh, Jesus. That’s a tough one because I wanna list them all. New ones? Older ones?
Me: Let’s just stick with new ones. Ha ha.
LoPresti: Eyes of My Mother, Excision, We Are What We Are, The Strange Colors of Your Body’s Tears, Bone Tomahawk, Brimstone, Der Samurai, Cub, Horsehead, Trash Fire, Mother!
Me: We Are What We Are was awesome. I still haven’t seen Mother!. I’m like the only person on my Facebook page who hasn’t. Ha ha.
LoPresti: Ha ha. So good. The imagery was heaven to me.
Me: I don’t know why I haven’t fucking seen it. I know I’ll like it. I’ve been an Aronofsky fan since Pi. Ha ha. Are there any new projects on the horizon? What’s in the future for LoPresti fans?
LoPresti: I recently finished a short novella called A God of Flies Among Them. I sent it to Jordan Krall as a possible submission for Dunhams Manor, so we’ll see what happens with that as Jordan has a lot going on right now. I’m also putting together another photography book. I don’t know exactly when that will be finished but it is started, and I also started another novella that will most likely be a straight forward horror story.
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