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Pandemic Forces Musician Richard Buckner In A Different Direction

NOEL KING, HOST:

Richard Buckner has spent decades on stages and in studios making music. The pandemic, though, pushed him in a different direction. Forced off the road, he's been focusing on the word. He's released a debut collection of poetry called "Cuttings From The Tangle." Here's NPR's Chad Campbell.

CHAD CAMPBELL, BYLINE: Since the very beginning of Buckner's career, reviewers have called his music poetic.

BRIAN HOWE: Yeah. Richard Buckner's lyrics are poems, I think.

CAMPBELL: That's Brian Howe, an arts journalist and a long-time fan. He says Buckner is, quote, "the least quotable one-of-a-kind lyricist ever."

HOWE: It's really hard to pull out any one line and say, see; look how great this is. They work by building up meaning, layer by layer, rather than putting a really fine point on anything.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STRAIGHT")

RICHARD BUCKNER: (Singing) Another washout, brake lights showing. Probably gonna slow down, no way of knowing.

CAMPBELL: Richard Buckner studied creative writing in college, says he always loved words. But he stumbled into music partly to satisfy his wanderlust.

BUCKNER: I love to drive alone for hours. I miss it so much, man. I miss the mystery of each night not knowing exactly what's going to happen.

CAMPBELL: Since the spring, Buckner has stayed at home in upstate New York to finish these poems. But being out on the road is his true home. Buckner says, as a kid, his family moved a lot, often several times a year.

BUCKNER: So I was always put in these situations where I was, like, pushed in to a world that knew nothing about me, and I knew nothing about them. And I've always been the observer.

CAMPBELL: Out on tour, Buckner puts that power of observation to good use, sticking to back roads, seeking out adventure.

BUCKNER: Like I've always said, you know, if you pay more than 50 bucks for a hotel, nothing interesting will happen.

CAMPBELL: And during a career spent crisscrossing the country, Buckner has seen plenty. In all those hotels between here and there, at those bars and truck stops and lounges, he would sit and listen and "Work," which is the title of this poem.

(SOUNDBITE OF POEM, "WORK")

BUCKNER: (Reading) To wait sometimes in a room, but often in a car after driving to wait for something else, you park and move to the passenger seat and watch. This is work.

CAMPBELL: Buckner collects those experiences and turns his notes into songs - or poems.

BUCKNER: I seem to be approached and told things by people. I try to stay out of it. Sometimes I'm just sitting there minding my own business, and conversations just kind of start. And I get these really great stories, man.

CAMPBELL: His book is published by Black Sparrow Press, which traditionally has tried to keep its back covers blank. But these days, that real estate is too valuable. He and his editors struggled with what to write until Buckner came up with this.

BUCKNER: (Reading) Open the book to see what is bound. Inside are nonfiction clippings in prepared formations. The notes are stationary travel. Origin is a perception. Destination is a moving figment. You are what memory says you are, and memory is a liar. Close the book, and shut your eyes.

CAMPBELL: Even though he's been writing for as long as he can remember, Buckner never thought of himself as a writer. That changed, though, when he got a box of books in the mail - his books.

BUCKNER: I don't have kids, but it must be when you first hold your child. It's like this - I just can't believe it. I mean, it's life-changing.

CAMPBELL: Richard Buckner has no plans for a new CD or tour, so he's sending his newborn into the world to do the singing for him.

Chad Campbell, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ARIEL RAMIREZ")

BUCKNER: (Singing) I kept your poem here with all my other gear. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.