Kids, I was tripping around the blogosphere a while ago when I happened upon a poem by one of our members, wishing he could be the subject of an in-depth interview in Rolling Stone………you can read its entirety here. It’s entitled Sort of Famous. It closes with:
I just want one of those
like I’ve seen in
where they try to discover
what drives me
what excites me
what disgusts me
what inspires me.
They’d make me sound
I know the odds
of that ever happening
I keep adding
to the interview
I am conducting on myself
one poem at a time.
Who could possibly resist?
Well, we are far from being Rolling Stone, but I knew I could do something about his wish to be interviewed, so I contacted him and, kids, here we have it. We’re sitting down today with Buddah Moskowitz, of ihatepoetry.blogspot.com
There has been some secrecy involved with this interview, as Buddah does not wish to use any identifying photos, in the interview or on his blog. We have to make do with his interesting “profile pic”.
That’s okay, we’re flexible. We can roll with that. Here he comes now. I can tell it’s Buddah, because he has a paper bag over his head, and is cloaked in mystery. Clue: through the eye-holes, his dark eyes are dancing!
Poets United: Buddah! Is that you? Thanks for risking your secret identity by meeting in public like this. Can you manage a coffee with that thing on your head? (I’m secretly hoping the steam will loosen the bag. You know how we interviewers are: you just cant trust us!) Can you tell us a little about yourself, your family and life in your part of the world? (I poked around in your archives and see you are a stepdad, and a really good one......)
Buddah: Thanks for the compliment. I am a lifelong resident of Southern California – grew up literally 5 miles away from world-famous Disneyland. My family of origin was of a lower middle class background. I was the middle of three boys born to my Mexican-American parents. We were nominally Catholic, baptized but not confirmed (because according to my mom that’s what everybody did back then). We were taught the Golden Rule, and my parents were basically loving, wonderful people. Now, if you’ve read my writing, you’ll see that my parents had many, many shortcomings – which, in retrospect, gave me lots of material.
My family now: I’ve been married to Anita for nine years and she brought to the union three children, two of whom are now adults. My life with them is a huge source of inspiration. I think if anyone who reads my writing even briefly, they will know me pretty well. I've said, I’m not an artist as much as a documentarian. And my favorite subject is me.
Poets United: Oh I so hear you. Our families do give us endless material. I really admire you for helping to raise your three step-kids. Not every man is willing to do that, and it says a lot about you. I must know – how did you come by your name? Is there a story?
Buddah: I learned early on that if I was going to write with my Spanish surname, I was going to be unintentionally biasing my readers. So I decided to come up with a nom de plume that would go beyond category. Like Whoopi Goldberg or Jello Biafra. Or spell Buddha the way I saw it on Buddah Records from back in the 70's.
Kids, here is where Buddah dropped his notebook. He had a bit of trouble trying to pick it up with the bag over his head, so I helped him. The book had fallen open to this page, which seemed kind of spooky at the time.
How Moskowitz was Born
When I picked up
the writer’s pencil at 16
it was really the birth
of something new in
so I’d picture
the eventual credits
flashing on the screen
“Teleplay by …”
with my given name
and after a while
I realized how my name
looked so incongruous
against the backdrop of
Mary Richard’s Minneapolis
or the exterior bar shot that
preceded every episode of
When I was 19
I wrote a play and
my theatre instructor –
an aging actor who chain smoked
and had flakes
of dried Brylcreem in his hair-
told me that if I was going
to write a play called
“Illegal Alien” and
use my given surname
that it was going to
Seems like he made that
decision without even reading
The name I was born with
and unglamorous and real
would condemn me to writing
and I figured that
was just about as much
as I could stomach
and I took a good hard
look at myself
I saw a fat belly
attached to dancing eyes and a
darting mind still
wrapped in guilt and obligation
and ethnic sounds like
and I knew of the nirvana
the logic of law
the comfort of
with one entity
and I liked the name
because it embodied East
and West and Middle East
and it wasn’t clear if it
was male or female
and it was such a strange
that no one could dare
to presume correctly
to guess my
all the categories
that put us apart
from one another
were laid to rest
when I anointed myself
in mechanical pencil and
Poets United: Well, that explains it wonderfully. Why did you call your blog – and your book of poems – I Hate Poetry?
Buddah: I make special note that I hate poetry with a capital P. That's the kind of poetry that is rarefied, overly pretentious, the kind that is used to marginalize and alienate others. I really hate the snobbery and exclusivity of the poetry world. Let’s not lose our perspectives. It’s just writing, and there’s no one out there setting the world on fire with poetry. Poetry is not the prerogative of the elite, it belongs to everyone.
Poets United: Yes, it does, and we all prove it every day. Well said, Buddah. Did you self-publish your book?
Buddah: I love the democracy that the Internet allows people. Anyone with minimal technical ability can make a website and have it visited. The tricky part now becomes marketing. With millions of sites out there, how does one make their site stand out? I liked the idea of making something and having it so that anyone can order it.
I self published my first book in 2005 via lulu.com (It’s been since discontinued). It’s a real kick knowing that my words are literally in the hands of readers across the world. Now, the challenge is getting people to commit and buy a copy! The poetry we write on the Internet should be treated as ephemera - it’s here and then it’s gone. If there are millions of websites, there must be hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of poems out there, with the vast majority of them never being read by more than a handful of people. If you’re looking to make a living as a poet on the Internet, it’s going to be a rough road.
The waitress has come with coffee. Buddah is having some difficulty fitting the large mug under his bagged head, so she thoughtfully provides him with a jointed straw. She must have thought: “a Head!” (Sorry, cant help myself!)
Poets United: How long have you been writing, and why did you choose poetry as your means of expression?
Buddah: I grew up in what many consider was the Golden Age of Television sitcoms, the early 1970s. At that time I was a shy, overweight Mexican kid, who could only find acceptance into the schoolyard circle via my sense of humor. So what I used to do was audiotape shows like M*A*S*H, All in the Family, Sanford and Son, Mary Tyler Moore, and I’d listen to them obsessively throughout the week , memorizing jokes, lines, the cadence, anything that I could use to make my peers laugh. I used to also memorize stand-up bits from Bill Cosby and Cheech and Chong that my peers never heard before and palm them off as my own. I was plagiarizing from Day One.
I think the first poem I ever wrote was a love poem written in the 10th grade for Laurie, a girl I kidded myself was my girlfriend. I started writing in earnest in 1980, (two years later), as a means of getting out of teenage angst and depression.
I remember seeing the movie “Annie Hall” on tv, and that Woody Allen schlemiel persona was what propelled my earliest writing. For about three years, I wrote plays, but I could never give the stories decent plots, so I was discouraged. I even once wrote to my sitcom writing idol, David Lloyd (of Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart, Taxi, Cheers, Frasier, etc) and asked how to get into the business, and I still treasure his letter, as he was pretty realistic in telling me it was dog eat dog and that I needed an incredible talent to be successful. (I think at least one of his offspring is responsible for “Modern Family” so now in retrospect, I see how clearly that one of my biggest problems as a writer was not being born into the correct family. I come from a long line of upholsterers and tv repairmen. )
Poets United: I so love the story of you as a shy kid using humor to make your classmates laugh. And you still might write a play for tv, you know. Never say never. What do you love about poetry – what keeps you writing it?
Buddah: What I love about poetry is the brevity of it - it can be written at a red light, in a parking lot, in the drive thru - does it sound like I compose a lot in my car? I like poetry because it’s finite, it’s portable, and because there’s precious little money to be made, it’s somewhat incorruptible.
Here Buddah pauses and makes a note to himself on his brown bag. For a poem, later, he tells me, over the crackling.
Poets United: What brought you to the world of blogging? What do you love about it?
Buddah: I started blogging because my pal Johnny Masuda started a poetry blog and I had to copy him and try to get more people to like me. I’m insecure and competitive. Eventually I wanted to create a brand of I Hate Poetry, but someone aced me out of the domain name.
Poets United: I hate when that happens! There is a WildWoman1 out there somewhere I’d like to have words with! Your profile photo is rather hilarious – do you have actual photos we can use in this interview? No?
Buddah: Thank you - I stole that image from someplace on the Internet, and I generally use that as my avatar. I guard my personal life mostly because I don’t necessarily want my church or my workplace to know who or what a Buddah Moskowitz is. Believe me, the real me loves all this attention, and it’s good that no one knows what I look like. As for clues, if you deconstruct my avatar, you get the two most salient clues about who I am, at least how I always refer to myself. Too cryptic? Good! Next!
It is too cryptic. I’m Old. The steam is thinning his paper bag and I sense time is running short. I start talking faster.
Poets United: Who would you say has been the single biggest influence on your writing?
Buddah: This answer may surprise you because he’s not known as a writer as much as a producer: James L. Brooks. He’s a television / film producer who’s been responsible for some of the most powerful art (IMHO) of the past century - and he’s done it very consistently. I won’t bore you with his resume, but he’s had a hand in so many of the really most wonderful, humanistic literature of the late 20th century (and I put TV and movies in the category of literature). There’s always humor, sometimes bittersweet, in his work, but more than that, there’s an authentic weight to his work. Now maybe some people are going to disagree, because he’s not a “serious writer”, but I would argue that more people alive today have seen and been touched by Brooks’ work than Shakespeare (BTW, he’s one of the creators of The Simpsons, so I know most have probably seen his work somewhere).
Poets United: Wow! Thanks for telling us about him. What would you say has influenced your writing the most – what circumstance of life, what learning, what life wisdom informs your writing, would you say?
Buddah: I don’t know if it influenced my writing, but I still have a tremendous need for love and acceptance. I started writing because I felt like I had no control over my world - I felt like I was fated to live my life as an overweight Mexican with bad hair living out of a car. I always felt like I was going to end up on the street, a bum with nothing and no one. Writing changed that - it gave me a reason to get up and imagine new stories, it gave me a sense of power. I had the mastery of words, and if I could master words, then perhaps I could master people’s perception of me. I could re-create myself as many times as I wanted - it just took writing the words. I also found that I could find friends with my writing, and I could even get first dates with my writing, although the ability to get laid from writing prowess was greatly overstated in the movies. Writing gave me a direction, a persona, and in many ways, has been the one act of continuity in my life. That and Christmas.
Poets United: Buddah, this is why I love doing these interviews. People have such wonderful stories, and are so touching! What are your personal criteria for good poetry, your own and others?
Buddah: It’s hard to put into words what makes good poetry -sometimes a poem will be dragging me along and then a flash of words at the end completely zips it into something I need to read again. I like poetry that is accessible and uses mostly everyday language. Note: I said mostly as there has to be at least one thing in each poem that makes it artful. It could be the use of a word, the curve of a phrase, or the novelty of an idea. But if it catches my heart, or makes me think, and best, if it makes me laugh, hell, yes, it’s good!
Poets United: That is just exactly right. Where do you go for inspiration? And when you feel uninspired, are you still able to write?
Buddah: If I’m not feeling particularly inspired, I usually read other poets. That usually gets me inspired to write a response to what I arrogantly presume is an inferior work. Revenge, one-upsmanship are great motivators for me. Also, sometimes, I’ll play music (I am self taught in piano, guitar, etc) and let something in my head get jostled loose. (For some of my experiments see soundcloud.com under “Noisy Therapy” or youtube.com for a recent experiment in music.)
Poets United: Sounds cool. Is there a modern author or poet who has had a significant impact on your own approach to writing?
Buddah: The naturalism of Bukowski permeated my earlier work - he makes it look easy , but when I read him, he’s profound. When I read what I’ve written (that was obviously inspired by him) it comes across as posturing and inauthentic. Another writer I liked is David Lehman. He often edits the “Best Poetry of …[year]” volumes, but his own books are excellent. They’re quiet and thoughtful, but also passionate and messy. Just a lot of fun to read.
I don’t read many poets - I feel alienated from them - they always seem to make me feel like “you’re not smart enough to read this.” I’ve written extensively about this feeling (“Moskowitz 0, Poetry 1” “Life’s Too Short to Read Poetry with a Capital P” and “Polishing My Sestina” for examples). I prize accessibility. Another reader I would like to let your readers know about is John Yamrus. He’s pretty prolific and not at all predictable. Love the writing of Amy Barlow Liberatore - now she’s sharp like a pencil, funny and can be trenchant as a sociologist. Now, there’s a really talented writer named DeJackson who hasn’t published a book (yet) but I encourage her to consider.
My values as a writer are authenticity, accessibility, being prolific and be entertaining! I remember reading a great book on poetry by Ted Kooser called The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice For Beginning Poets), and he alluded that while you should not write for your audience, you do need to have some kind of a reader in mind, otherwise it’s one long journal isn’t it?
authenticity and accessibility
Poets United: I love your criteria: authenticity and accessibility. One of your poems speaks of addiction and your 21 years of sobriety. Would you like to talk a little about that journey here or would you rather not? It is a huge achievement.
Buddah: Thanks. February 10, 1990 I walked away from a nasty habit of drinking. I remember waking up with my daily hangover and realizing I wasn’t going to feel better for about 6 hours. Then I started doing the math and realized that that if I kept this up, that comes out to about 3 months a year feeling positively terrible! So, I stopped, and let me tell you some days it’s harder than others to stay away. But I’ve gone through a bad marriage, betrayal, adultery, death threats, restraining orders, a father dying completely unexpectedly, lots and lots of bad things (like everyone) and I haven’t had a drink yet. So, this February 10th, it’ll be 22 years sober, by the grace of God.
Poets United: Way to go, Buddah. That is a major accomplishment.
Buddah is fidgeting in his chair, and fiddling worriedly with the paper bag that looks in danger of falling off his head. Quickly, let’s wrap this up!
Poets United: Do you have a favorite poem?
Buddah: Hard to say, it’s like they’re all my children, my special needs children. Here are I few I especially like:
Poets United: When you are not writing, what other interests do you pursue?
Buddah: I love reading (nonfiction exclusively), eating, hanging out with Anita, raising kids, taking our dogs for walks, playing / composing music.
Poets United: It sounds nice, Buddah. And happy. What do you do for your day job?
Buddah: I am a social science researcher for an institution of higher education in Southern California.
Poets United: When you have a day off to spend as you please, what are you most likely to be doing?
Buddah: Going to the public library with my 15 year old daughter. Puttering around the house.
Poets United: What causes are dear to your heart? What are the things that worry you the most?
Buddah: Hunger, poverty and illiteracy are the causes most dear to my heart - mostly because they are all man-made, and consequently can be man-solved.
Poets United: If you had to sum up your philosophy of life, what would you tell us?
Buddah: Love and take care of one another.
Poets United: What is the single best day you ever spent?
Buddah: Today - everything else is an illusion. (OK, if that’s too cute an answer, November 29, 2002, when Anita and I were married.)
Poets United: Awwwwwwww, that is sweet! Who are your fave blogging pals?
Buddah: I really don’t interact too much with other bloggers, and I don’t feel right listing only three, but in the right hand column at my ihatepoetry.blogspot.com site, there are blogs I list as “Worth Your Time” and those always get checked whenever I go online.
Poets United: Is there anything else you’d like to share with Poets United?
Buddah: Yes, I want to encourage anyone who wants to be part of my project at http://www.virtualpoetryreading.com. All you have to do is call 951-665-8161 and read your poem into the voice mail. I’ll post it, and you’ll have a worldwide audience! Try it, it’s fun!
Also, if anyone would like to buy a copy of my ebook “I Hate Poetry 2.0: Formatted for Mobile Devices” it’s available for the Kindle or the Nook . I specifically formatted it for smart phones, e-readers and tablets, as I tend to think that’s the wave of the future. It’s 100 poems for only $9.99 - that’s a bargain! Also, all funds raised from the sales will go to literacy charities. I’m not in this for the money, that’s why I have a day job!
Also, for up-to-the-minute-poetry come see me at ihatepoetry.blogspot.com or write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for helping fulfill a lifelong dream to be interviewed! - el mosk
Poets United: Thank you, Buddah, for such a great and entertaining interview. I only wish we had a huge readership for you. But I will tell you, our members are so warm and wonderful, that a hundred of them are worth a million of anyone else’s readers.
Kids, as Buddah left the restaurant, I saw him remove the bag and run his hands through his dark hair. But you know what? I’ll never tell. I really got to like Buddah during this interview, and so his identity is safe with me! A clue: he’s cute!
Isnt it true that the people behind the pen - and, in this case, under the bag - are some of the most interesting folks around? Don’t forget to come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!