Hello Rick. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me.
Oh, it’s my pleasure Rick, though, full disclosure I’m just answering your questions by typing. We’re not speaking out loud. I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea.
That makes perfect sense. Thanks for keeping me honest.
No problem. Also I think every one should know that neither of us are wearing pants. But don’t read into that too much, one of us is just an internal dialogue, so no-one’s getting frisky.
I bet some people are getting frisky somewhere. There are a lot of places and a lot of people in those places. Speaking of places, I hear you write a lot of poetry while traveling.
It’s true. My very first book was called “Paris: it’s the Cheese” and it’s all poems i wrote on a two week trip in Paris at the end of 1995. I have 23 books out now…a few of them are bonafide poetry collections like 1997’s I Am My Own Orange County, and the more recent collections Making Love to the 50 Ft. Woman, and God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion. But most of them are travel books, poem written on location while traveling, about the experiences of being in those places.
Wow, 23 books! That’s pretty impressive…even to me, and I’m you and already knew this. There’s a new one out, right?
Yes. God, yes. Thank you for asking about it. It’s called Hunka Hunka Howdee! and it’s poems written in Memphis, Nashville, and Louisville while on vacation there in June of 2018.
Hunka Hunka Howdee! That’s a strange title.
Is that a question?
Sorry, no…tell us about the title.
No, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be a dick. Sometimes humor falls flat…it’s the curse of having a comedian’s brain…there’s very little filter and sometimes things just come out of my mouth, with the thought about whether or not they should have been said coming after it’s been launched out of my mouth.
I totally get it. But really, tell us about the title.
Right…sorry again. I’ll stick tot he questions you’re asking and not my own agenda. Well, as I mentioned the book was partially written in Memphis where Elvis is from…he was a big presence in the book (and in our experience there) so the first part of the title is a phrase from one of his famous songs, and the second part of the title comes from Minnie Pearl. She was the host of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville for many years and she would always begin her time in front of the audience by saying “Howdee” in an incredibly endearing way. The story of the Opry, especially one of it’s early homes, the Ryman Theatre in Nashville, we’re also very big parts of our experience…so I blended the two phrases together into Hunka Hunka Howdee! Music is a real big deal in Memphis and Nashville…both are “music cities” and the highway between them is referred to is “Music Highway”.
Cool. Now you said “our experience” a couple of times. Were you speaking in the royal we?
No. My travel companion and muse is my wife Addie. She’s incredibly tolerant as we’re wandering around different cities every summer, in and out of museums, walking up and down streets, as I frequently pause to write down a poem or observation that I think needs to be written down. She’s often 2 rooms ahead of me in museums as I’m stuck back at one painting trying to type in the artist’s name correctly. She’s also a character in the books. A good portion of the poems are my reactions to some of the funny things she says or observes. She refuses to write her own book, so part of what I do in these travel books is document her brilliance.
Interesting…so these travel books are really poetic documentations of your vacations?
Yeah! Basically a travelogue…the poems appear in order that they were written…there are through lines…pieces that refer back to previous pieces, running jokes, etc. Some people have told me they take my books to the cities they were written in and try to follow some of the same paths I went on, seeing some of the same things I saw with their own eyes, but also with the context of my observation or poem about them.
That’s definitely different than just checking out Trip Advisor or bringing a more conventional guide book with you. You’ve mentioned a lot about humor…is Hunka Hunka Howdee! all funny?
Well there are those who would probably comment that it is not at all funny. But forgive my self deprecating answer and we’ll go with: No. There’s definitely a lot of humor, but there are more thoughtful and serious pieces. There’s a whole section written while visiting the National Civil Rights Museum, built around the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated which, as you can imagine, was a very powerful place to be. Also some of the “end of day” poems tend to be longer and more traditionally poetic as I’m writing those with more time on my hands in hotel beds late at night at the end of an entire day of experiences.
Do you find as a poet, when traveling, that your experiences might be diminished at all because you’re busy assessing the experiences in poems and observations rather than just experiencing them?
I think that’s the curse of the poet, or any artist really. We’re constantly distracted by our own filters, by our assessments of what’s happening around us, by what we’re seeing. We’re filtering it…we’re reshaping it…we’re seeing the spectacular in the mundane. That’s how we make our art. I think without that curse, it would be difficult to be that artist. So probably yes, I’m not having the same kind of experience as others who aren’t going through life as a writer or artist. But without that curse, I’m not sure the art would come.
Mmm….That resonates quite a bit with me. Well they didn’t give as a limit on how long this interview should be, so what do you think? Another 50 or 60 questions? Hahahahaha. Just kidding. What’s your next trip going to be and where can people get his book?
My next trip actually already happened. (As you well know you coy bastard.) We just returned from a two week trip in Japan…a whole new book was written there which will come out next summer (2020). It will be called “The Tokyo-Van Nuys Express” – a title modeled after Richard Brautigan’s book “The Tokyo-Montana Express.”
The new book is available on Amazon. And I think they’re publishing some of the poems from it along with this interview.
Thanks so much for your time today. Are we still on for Cribbage later?
You know we don’t play cribbage. Don’t make things up.