Like the great Frodo Baggins before him, poet Rick Lupert likes to write about his adventures. But instead of returning the one ring to Mordor, Rick’s gone to Paris for the cheese, New Orleans for the Beignets, Montreal for the Poutine and now to Portland for the coffee. We caught up with Rick to talk about travel, his next book “Beautiful Mistakes: The Poet’s Experience in Portland, Seattle and Twin Peaks,” and meeting a Jedi.
First and foremost, how did you get into the Oscars? Who did you get to meet?
A friend of mine works for for the Academy and offered to us the tickets she was entitled to. I didn’t wear a tie to my own wedding so it was a pretty big deal to get me into a tuxedo. (I wore Dr. Marten’s though…just to show ’em…) We we’re sitting in the highest possible section, as far away from the action as possible but it was still pretty amazing to be there. Whoopie Goldberg walked right by us on the red carpet when we arrived. Guillermo Del Toro too. But the best was after the show, in the elevator to the parking garage…Mark Hammil gets on. I realize I’m never going to have this chance so I tap him on the shoulder and say “Excuse me, Mark…sorry to bother you but I figure it’s only 5 or 6 time in your life you’re going to be in an elevator with Luke Skywalker, can I shake your hand. He laughs and turns around and offers me his hand. While shaking he says “Not too tight…that’s my fake hand.” So perfect and iconic…made the whole evening. That and the snack boxes Jimmy Kimmel had stashed under all the seats because it was such a long how.
Travel is always a series of adventures. How did it inspire your work?
I never intended to be a travel poet, but now having released 23 books, 17 of which are travel poetry books (plus a spoken word album), I gratefully accept the label. My very first book, Paris: It’s the Cheese, was written on a trip to Paris in 1996. I’d never been to Europe or anywhere interesting really, so having the opportunity to wander these gorgeous streets immersed in my first ever foreign culture, I ended up writing more poetry than I had over the course of a year living in Los Angeles. I hadn’t put out a collection of my work before, and it, honestly seemed like it would be a lot easier to take all the work I’d written in Paris, edit it down, and put it in a book in the order that it was written while on the trip. Everything in Paris deserved a poem, and mind you, this was before digital cameras existed and I quickly discovered there simply wasn’t enough film to take pictures of everything that needed to be documented. Paris: It’s the Cheese was well received and since then almost every trip I’ve gone on has allowed me to produce another book, including this newest one, Beautiful Mistakes, as I wander through new places and discover the things that I find quirky or interesting were beautiful.
My favorite writer of all time is Richard Brautigan, who wasn’t per se a travel writer, but who, like me, filtered the things he saw in his every day life into wonderful, bite-sized poems. I was “accused” by another poet-friend of mine who was struggling with writers block, as she was considering the volume of my output, that I just “documenting my life.” Like in Brautigan’s work, every experience is fodder for a poem, like a little trip somewhere.
What cities most surprised you?
Certainly Paris was the first beautiful surprise as I’ve never experienced anything like it in America. The architecture, the food, heck they speak a completely different language there! But what I’ve realized as I travel to different places, is that a city doesn’t have to be large and full of famous tourist attractions to find something extraordinary to look at, walk into, or eat. Portland, Maine is an amazing foodie town. The sunsets over Lake Champlaign in Burlington, Vermont are out of sight. New Orlean with its…well with its everything. Hartford Connecticut (where none of the locals believed we were actually on vacation) has the Mark Twain house and the oldest art museum in the country.. Speaking of art museums, Portland, Oregon has one of the most extraordinary art museums we’ve ever seen. The Pop Culture Museum in Seattle was also unlike any place. Every city has a surprise waiting for you. That’s why we keep going.
You’re wife plays a role in your travels. Is she your inspiration or co-conspirator?
Addie is not so much a co-conspirator as someone who is resigned to all of my conspiracies. She is certainly my muse, and is extraordinarily patient as I take up all this extra time on our vacations writing things down that I think are amazing. She’s also extremely funny with her own unique perspective that, at the very least, is the cutest thing that exists. Half of my books are me framing things that she has said. I’ve been trying to convince her to put out her own book for years. I’m so lucky to have her as a partner on these annual adventures, and in life really.
How did watching Portlandia inspire your trip and your next book?
I’m sure the city of Portland has a love hate relationship with the show Portlandia. On one hand it’s bringing a lot of attention and fame to the city. On the other hand people like me, who have never been to Portland before, get off the bus with nothing but images from the show in our head, and expect weird at every corner. Portland actually delivers on “weird in every corner” in my experience. But it’s also filled with sweet people who are kind and who really care about you and the world, and that you have as much good coffee as possible. I actually thought Portlandia was a word they made up for the show, but it’s actually a fake God the city invented who is immortalized in a statue that sits on a building downtown. That’s the kind of place Portland is – when none of the old gods are doing the trick, let’s just make up our own. On the other hand my trip to Portland, also had an effect on my watching of the last season of the show. Now every time I see the opening credits or any of the scenes in the show, I’m looking for places that I actually set foot in, or near. It’s pretty cool.
What makes a damn fine cup of coffee?
How do you pick a city to write about? Do you research it ahead?
Step one: find a place we’ve never been to! Step two: go there! I spend a little bit of time looking at Trip Advisor for cities we’re thinking about going to, just to see if it has enough things to do or see. We want museums, interesting landmarks, attractions or historical sites unique to the place, things like that. On the other hand when I saw that the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory was in Waterbury Vermont, we decided we had to go there, and built a 10 day vacation around north-eastern cities that surround it. we try to hit two or three cities on a 10 to 12 day trip, and I actually make a spreadsheet listing the cities and under each one a list of things that you can do there, and places to eat brunch. After actually booking the flight (which is how we pull the trigger) the only thing I show up in the town with, besides our hotel reservation, is a list of places that we can eat brunch at. There’s almost nothing we love more than brunch, so if the city doesn’t have good places for that, it’s off the list! In some cases we might book some entertainment or fancy dinners well in advance if we come across something that reviews tell us would be hard to get into otherwise. But other than that we really just show up in the town with open eyes and a desire to turbo tourist our way around and see and eat as much as possible.
Everyone in the Red Star Taco Bar
in Fremont could easily work for
Google which is around the corner
Near the shadow of a dinosaur
made of shrubbery. Or as they
call it, according to the chocolatier,
and probably Google Search,
The Fremonster. It’s Friday and
no one is searching for anything
Takes us through a typical trip.
We want to hit all the main neighborhoods in the city. We love art museums and if the city has a main art museum we will definitely go to it. It’s very cool seeing paintings by some of the worlds most famous artists, whose work we’ve seen elsewhere, that you can only see in a museum in a particular town. I don’t want to belabor this point too much but we explore brunch places like it’s a gold rush. If there is a place that’s known for biscuits, we are going there, no questions asked. We also happen to be vegetarians so we explore as many of the nicer upscale vegetarian restaurants that we can find. We love the quirky and weird attractions in places, like in Fremont, outside of Seattle, there is a giant troll sculpture under a bridge. It’s like a must-see thing! We love historical sites to. If something happened in a place, I want to go stand on the ground where it happened. And to round out those stories if major players are buried in the area we want to pay our respects to them at their graves. We really try to get to know a place, it’s past and present. We’ll happily talk to people and try to make best friends with tour guides (we want to be their favorite visitors ever) and sometimes will take the opportunity to visit friends who live in those cities as well.
I’m always hopeful that I’ll write enough poetry on a trip to make a book, and I haven’t disappointed myself yet. Though the places we choose to go, aren’t chosen with the idea that I’m going to write about them, they’re chosen because we really want to go and see and experience those places. What is impacted, is the amount of time that we spend in a place. Addie is extremely patient with me as I write down observations and often entire poems on location. (She’s often several rooms ahead of me at a museum.) She loves a good cushy bench after I’ve dragged her all over town, and I am documenting something I’m sure is the most clever observation ever.
Where are you going next?
This summer we’re really excited to be heading to Memphis where we hope to meet Elvis, Nashville, where I’ve already spotted an amazing looking biscuit place, and Louisville, Kentucky, where I expect a lot of white I write to be influenced bit by bit by the bourbon they serve me there.
“Beautiful Mistakes: The Poet’s Experience in Portland, Seattle and Twin Peaks.”
Poems by Rick Lupert