Rod McKuen

The sun finally dropped behind the tree line
on an October evening still warm 
from the day's golden light 
and I'm thinking of Rod McKuen 
poet and voice of a hundred fall nights
who showed up when I needed him 
and stuck around, silly man,
in a slender collection 
of anguish and love poems 
fragrant now with the dusty spores of a long-ago life 
I saw him last in a thrift store down on Riverside,  
nestled with Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass 
and Andy Williams in the crate of albums 
nobody wants anymore, 
this poet who sold more books in a single year
than Alan Ginsberg sold in fifty, but it is Howl 
we remember and not A Cat Named Sloopy, alas,
recalled from the randomness of a day in October 
and the light on my screen 
and the story that appeared,
just like the poet, 
when I needed it most. 

2 thoughts on “Rod McKuen

  1. I became a big Rod fan about the age of 12, when my mom introduced me to his work. Looking back to that time, I think the trouble was that he invented a new school of poetry, and the self-important posers in the critic class couldn’t grasp that.

    Rod wrote pop poetry, rather than “serious” genres. As such, it’s accessible and speaks to emotion rather than intellect, which is why he sold so well and was such a star. (In an age when most poets could barely get published at all.)

    If you compare him to the pop musicians of that era – Cat Stevens, Don McLean, Lobo, Bread, John Denver, Jim Croce, Gilbert O’Sullivan… the list is endless – you see the resemblance. No-one felt the need to belittle them for not being Mozart or Duke Ellington, whom they also exponentially out-sold; in that case, the critics could see the apples and oranges.

    Unfortunately, Rod was unsuccessful at floating his new genre, and he’s gone down in litcrit as a “hack”. Which is too bad, because like the great pop musicians of his time he wrote some very good and worthwhile stuff. I’m grateful that my mom opened that door to emotional literacy when I was a kid.

    Thanks for the review-in-verse; it took me right back.

    1. I, too, was introduced to him by my mother, maybe I was 12 or 13, maybe a little older, around the time I was listening to every one of those songwriters you listed. Yes, the resemblance is clear. He was a sort of progenitor of that musical genre, even if, as you say, he was unsuccessful in floating his own poetic one. He succeeded in other ways. Thanks for making that connection.

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