Oct/Nov 2010  •   Reviews & Interviews

An Interview with Rick Lupert

Review by Ann Skea

How many people write poetry on their honeymoon? I know one person who did: poet Rick Lupert author of 12 books of poetry, founder of the online poetry resource Poetry Super Highway, and the host of the Cobalt Café Reading Series in Canoga Park, California.

I'd Like to Bake Your Goods (2006, Ain't Got No Press), is an honest, playful, witty account of Rick and Addie Lupert's honeymoon travels in Paris, Rome, and Venice. The cover picture of the book is a Marc Chagall painting entitled "Wedding," which portrays a bride and groom floating over various distractions, like an angel playing a violin and a goat holding something in his hoof. The groom looks adoringly at his bride. Marc Chagall's painting as well as the idea of honeymoon poetry was what helped me make the final decision as to which of Lupert's books to read. Lupert's poems in this collection are like Chagall's paintings: juxtapostioned images with unique metaphors that tell a story.

Rick Lupert's work has appeared in many publications, including The Los Angeles Times, Chiron Review, Caffeine Magazine and Zuzu's Petal. He is a regular featured poet at venues in southern California where he lives with his wife Addie and son.


EG     Belated congratulations on your wedding. How long have you and Addie been married?

RL     Thanks. We've been married for 6 years... since June 26, 2004.

EG     Many people have photos to remember special occasions like a wedding. You have a book. Did you plan to write a book on your honeymoon?

RL     Hoped more than planned I think. It's not my first travel book. I had written previously in Paris, London, Israel, New York City, and Fargo, North Dakota. Each trip was taken for the enjoyment of the travel... the vacational joy at exploring a new place and, especially abroad, being in a place very different from Los Angeles and even the U.S. (I think I just invented the word "vacational.") I tend to write more, or at least think of things to write more when I'm outside of my normal element, so being in Paris, Rome, and Venice on top of being on a honeymoon and married, definitely put me outside of my normal element, and all the observations of being in the new place just started arriving. It would have been fine if a book didn't come out of the honeymoon... we have our pictures and the memories... but I'm certainly happy enough material for a full-length collection did come from it.

EG     I find this an interesting statement: "I tend to write more, or at least think of things to write more when I'm outside of my normal element." Many writing exercises suggest getting in touch with an immediate environment. Could you or have you ever written a poem about say the door to your house or your driveway? Isn't your day to day environment interesting?

RL     Surely my front door deserves a poem... however I think when I'm in the mundaneness of day to day living, working, feeding the child, the wife, the self, driving to where I need to go, it is a little more difficult to stop and smell the front door as it were. When I am outside of my normal element and routine I become hyper-aware of everything, the little details, the big details, the spectacular within someone else's mundane. It's not that my every day isn't interesting... it's that I'm spending more time living and enjoying it than assessing it with a poetic eye.

EG     I'd Like to Bake Your Goods reads like a travelogue. I can see you and Addie standing at the Eiffel or sitting in a gondola in Venice or at a famous church. Did you write poems when you were inspired at these places or were these poems written later or even after the honeymoon? This poem made me wonder:

At This Point in the Trip

Addie isn't asking me for my pen;
She's threatening to take it away.

And this poem:

Something Addie Said

Give me that pen

RL     All were written during the experience... some on the spot... if Addie had the backpack there would be frequent cries of, "Addie I need the Journal now," when something occurred to me. It was write it then or lose it forever. Other poems, in particular the longer ones, were written during more down time moments, sitting in cafes during meals or breaks, or at night before drifting off to sleep. In all of my travel books, rarely is any of the material written later than the actual travel experience.

Regarding the poems you highlighted: frequently, especially when Addie can tell I'm thinking of something absurd. She can always tell. There might be an "Oh God... what is it now..." She's also especially cute in the way that she, well, exists, says things, etc. Especially in later books, there are more observations on things that Addie has said. In an upcoming collection of poetry I wrote in Montreal, I actually joke that Addie should write her own book because I'm stealing all her material by turning her dialogue into my poetry.

EG     For a writer or artist its great to have a spouse who gives support and inspiration, don't you think?

RL     Absolutely. I have definitely found my muse in Addie. She inspires a lot of the material in these travel books (note the earlier travel books, before Addie, are much shorter) and she's very supportive of my writing during these trips (and in general). Well, to be honest she's at least very "tolerant" of these activities... especially when I'm doing a great job making myself laugh at something I just thought up.

EG     Do you have a favorite poem about one of the places you and Addie visited? I especially liked this one:

The Acoustics in the Pantheon

When I sneeze in there
It bounces off the walls
Hundreds of people are silent
And looking at me
for a brief moment
The empire is mine.

RL     I don't have a favorite poem. In a way each travel book is like one long poem. During the process I'm happy to come up with the short observational poems that make me laugh, and I'm also happy when the longer, experiential pieces come along. When people see my 12 books sitting on a table after a reading, I often get someone with cash in their hand and the question, "Which one is your favorite book that I should buy right now?" I equate it to asking which of one's children is the favorite. At the time I put out each book, I guess that one is my favorite. When choosing individual poems from a collection to share at a reading or to submit places or post online as samples, I tend to put ones which I think are the strongest and most accessible, but I don't think I can pick a favorite individual poem.

EG     Addie seems like a good sport. She let you write about her and your honeymoon that is normally private. I've heard fiction writers discuss the use of real people in their stories, and often they disguise them so people won't know, but you couldn't disguise your wife while writing about your honeymoon. Did you talk to her about the poems where she was part of the content, ask her permission?

RL     I would differentiate personal from private and describe the book, some of it anyway, as more personal... but it is, I think, these personal observations and connections which, beyond the humor, provide the deeper human connection to anyone who is reading. There were definitely "private" things that happened that were not included in the book. (Actually in my most recent book, We Put Things In Our Mouths, a collection of poems written on a later European trip, one of the early pieces in it says that Addie and I shared a secret that I would not include in a poem.)

EG     I want to know the secret. Perhaps you'll write about it some day. If not, it is an illustration of the "private" part of your relationship. The banter between you and Addie reflected in the poems is one of the aspects of the book I enjoyed. The reader gets to see your honeymoon experience. When the camera is off, the poet's pen put away, that's it. As readers we can fill in the blanks with our imagination. Did you argue on your trip?

RL     All I remember was it was bliss. Saying that Addie is a good sport is like saying that air is good for breathing. It's a bit of an understatement. I don't think I ever had the good sense to ask Addie's permission about including a poem in a book. Maybe I should do that. I might have to gather up all of my sold copies and black out certain sections as a result. Maybe not. Addie is very supportive of these things, and she particularly enjoys hearing them read as, as accessible as they may be to anyone, they are fond or humorous memories to her.

EG     Does Addie have any creative aspirations of her own?

RL     Addie is a musician and is part of an on-again / off-again Jewish world-music-fusion band in Los Angeles called Yeh Dede. They are four women who are all vocalists, and they play guitars, ukulele and just about any percussion instrument you can imagine. It's very afro-cuban-latin-middle-eastern. She also works as a music teacher for Los Angeles Unified School District and spends all her working hours immersed in the world of teaching various aspects of music to elementary school children. She also enjoys working, with me, as a music leader at our synagogue in Northridge where, collectively, we help to create unique, music-centered worship and cultural experiences.

EG     Isn't Northridge the city where there was a serious earthquake a while back?

RL     Yes. In January of 1994 the Northridge Earthquake happened. It was 4:31 in the morning and undoubtedly the most astounding earthly event I've ever experienced. I was living in an apartment in Encino (also in the San Fernando Valley, like Northridge). I might have slept through it if it weren't for the water from the fish tank that splashed on my face. I got up to leave my room because my roommate was shouting for everyone to get out, and I ran right into a bookcase that had fallen over. Many people who are/were congregants of the synagogue in Northridge where I teach were effected and had to have their homes or sections of their homes rebuilt. The Cobalt Cafe where I host a weekly open reading had just opened a couple days earlier in its then-new location. The very first reading in that location happened the day after the earthquake.

EG     You might say the weekly series started off with a big bang! I can't imagine living where there are earthquakes. Have you written any earthquake poems or many California poems? There were a couple in Bake Your Goods about LA.

RL     I've written a lot of California and L.A. poems... sometimes they appear in the travel books as "unlike in Los Angeles" pieces where I contrast something unique about the place I'm visiting with a reality of life back home. There are also many "non-travel" pieces written while wandering about L.A. or thinking about what happens, or what has happened here. They have different flavors from the observational witticisms of the travel books and are often longer pieces. Maybe L.A. deserves it's own book of poetry. I could frame it as a "Staycation-logue" or something ridiculous like that.

EG     How about a recent Lupert L.A. poem?

RL     Here is one:


for Sarah Kobrinsky

She'd become so familiar with Los Angeles
that she could identify the ocean by sight.

Or so I thought.

Turns out she'd been reading the signs
the whole time.

Along the coast
they all read:


EG     The poems in I'd Like to Bake Your Goods are brief, as is "untitled." Do you write long poems ever, like epics?

RL     Usually not epics, but I do have longer poems... and when I say longer I mean usually fits on a page, sometimes two pages. Thinking of the brief poems as the couple line observational ones. Rarely do I write the kind of long poem that causes someone at a reading say, to announce, "This is a long one."

EG     Many of the poems are lean to begin with. Do you rewrite your poems?

RL     Most of the editing I do is while writing. Afterwords any editing usually consists of getting the line breaks the way I want them, along with deciding on where I want punctuation or if I'm going to use it at all. I almost never re-write poems. I tend to move on to a different piece if the first one doesn't work. I'm more settled in the Allen Ginsberg "first thought, best thought" school.

EG     I am not familiar with the Ginsburg "first thought, best thought" school. Can you say more about this?

RL     From my perspective it's not per se a disrespect to the editorial process, because certainly there is merit in that, but more a shield against second guessing one's original writing or the specific thoughts, images, and even word choice that originally went down on to the paper (or was tapped into the computer). It is, perhaps, the idea that that very first thought is the most genuine artistic portrayal of what the writer wanted to say.

EG     I found the poems worked well together, like short story collections about one theme where each story (poem) stood whole alone. Did you want the poems to stand alone and work?

RL     For the most part, yes. I do submit poems individually to places and have had some success in getting them separately published outside of the context of the complete collection, but sometimes I purposefully refer to earlier images or humorous elements in subsequent poems, and I understand that that particular piece would not work alone without the previously referenced piece. I'm okay with that, too.

EG     You've been involved in the Los Angeles poetry community since 1990. Tell us how your poetry writing began.

RL     It was influenced by the absurd, the slapstick, the Monty Python, Douglas Adams, and Richard Brautigan. Various comments, sometimes funny and sometimes surreal, would fall out of my mouth. My writing started as an attempt to archive these observations. I picked up a little journal and starting writing them all down. Occasionally they got longer, and I wondered what it was I was doing, so I went to a dearly-departed local venue called the Iguana Cafe in North Hollywood where a "poets circle" was happening. You would show up, read a poem, and then be critiqued by the others. I was confident I would show up, be told what I was doing was not poetry, and then I would be free to move on with my life and do something else. Apparently I was encouraged by the other participants response to my work, because I began to identify myself as a poet and have gone on to have quite an extensive repertoire of involvements in L.A. poetry and on the Internet.

EG     What was the genesis of Poetry Super Highway?

RL     Poetry Super Highway began as a section of poetry links from my personal website. In an effort to have frequently changing content and hopefully repeat visitors, I invited people to add their poetry and writing links and soon their poetry as well. It expanded rapidly over the first year; and now, 13 and a half years later(ish), it seems to have turned into a somewhat major resource and stop for poets and writers on the net, servicing its mission: to expose as many people to as many other people's poetry as possible.

EG     What do you think of the poetry that is being published today online and in print? Do you have any favorite contemporary poets?

RL     I think the Internet has made everything, including publishing poetry, more accessible. So there is a lot more to quickly access than there was before online existed. With this I see a lot more poetry that I like and a lot more that I don't like. Not much different than before the Internet... just greater quantities of both.

My favorite contemporary poets are Brendan Constantine, Jeffrey McDaniel, Mindy Nettifee, Derrick Brown, and my all time favorite, though one would argue that he may not be contemporary since he died in the mid-eighties, is Richard Brautigan.

EG     What is it about Brautigan that you find appealing?

RL     I love his humor and his minimalism. There is great absurdity mixed in with beautiful, sometimes surreal imagery or events. I love that there isn't necessarily a message in his prose or poetry, but it is often a single image or narrative that presents a slice of life: a specific moment or period of time, without message, that allows you to appreciate the portrayal on it's own merits, draw your own conclusions, find the humanity of simply having experiences. The spectacular showing itself from the mundane.

EG     Do you have any conscious thoughts on metaphor in poetry? You used an original amusing one in the poem "Luggage Siblings":

It's so cute that we have matching suitcases
I wonder if they're married and that's where
our smaller luggage came from.

P.S. Our backpack was adopted.

RL     Metaphor in poetry is like...

Wait, no, I think my thoughts on metaphor in poetry are actually all unconscious, kind of like... sorry, drawing a blank here. Probably because I'm awake.

EG     Are you and Addie planning any trips?

RL     We just returned from a trip to Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Although there are no specific future plans for this kind of travel (beyond our regular trips to see family at Thanksgiving and Passover) we will always make a point of taking trips to new places.

EG     Do you have formal training in writing? What is your educational background?

RL     I do not have any formal writing training, and I don't have much of an educational background to speak of. I graduated high school in 1986 and then tried college a number of times, though I found I didn't have enough stamina to sit in classrooms with life beckoning beyond the school walls.

EG     Do you publish your own books?

RL     Yes. I had decent success early on with local small presses, but I realized I can do more for my work on my own in terms of design, content, distribution, and keeping more of the money earned as well, so I started my own press, Ain't Got No Press, and have released and re-released all of my books under that banner ever since. It's been a good thing.

EG     Where can people buy your books?

RL     They can get them right from my website. They are also available on Amazon, though as these things go it's a little better for me if people buy them directly on my website... plus potential purchasers can also read samples from all of the books there as well. Also I always have them with me at readings, both at the weekly Cobalt Cafe Canoga Park reading I host as well as whenever I'm asked to be a featured reader somewhere.


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