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Jan 5, 2019

Rehashing old blog posts: My favorite poet, once upon a time when I used to read poetry - Rod McKuen

This is rehashed blog post, (not much of a rehash other than changing tenses to match the changed lives and times,) first posted fourteen years ago in my now deleted LiveJournal.

The only readers of poetry are angsty teens, wannabe poets or desperate lovers sniffing around to make off with a verse or two. In the early nineties I gained entry into the first category and started to write...poems! Thereby getting admitted to the second category as well.

I must have just crossed in to my teens. I could be often seen thumping through the pages of yellow moth eaten slim volumes of contemporary poetry, before deciding which one to take home, at our city's public library. Some of these were as recently published as in the summer of '69, which more or less marked the end of the period called contemporary at this historic place of books and learning. That was as current as I could get in 1990s without straining my pocket.

And then I met him….. in a lonesome city, listening to the warm – Rod McKuen. Here was a man after my own heart. A poet singing of love, loneliness, angst and all things in between. Reading McKuen was the closest I came to reading paperback romances, but it does not undermine the value of his works nor do I regret reading them, I enjoyed every secret bite I took of his poems. He was my first girlish crush in the world of words and had a permanent seat in my altar before T.S.Eliot unseated him some years later.

This former rodeo cowboy, lumberjack, cookie cutter, railroad worker, surveyor and US Army infantryman in Korea (wonder whether they still make such renaissance men?) had sold 75 million copies of his books, translated into 28 languages world-wide. A poetic mouthpiece of the sixties flower children, McKuen had recorded 215 albums of original music, 67 went platinum and 115 gold. McKuen’s songs have been recorded by hundreds of artists from Frank Sinatra to Madonna and from Barbra Streisand and the Boston Pops to The Kingston Trio.(Thanks, Wikipedia)
Rod McKuen at Stanyan St., SFO.  Photo by Ralph Crane

Critics said he had no rhyme or rhythm, it was prose faking as poetry, cheap kitsch for the unrefined masses. Who cared, back then I enjoyed it. I hate the maze of metaphors, or in the present day, the overuse of thesaurus. Poetry should be simple, understandable and from the heart. If someone blamed McKuen of being self centered, for pimping his life, I pity him/her – isn’t a person an agglomeration of his experiences and some scattered leaves of memory in someone else’s scrapbook when s/he is dead?

Looking back, most of the McKuen stuff I had once liked with their recurring love-loneliness-sex themes seems cheesy for my now evolved, refined senses(ROFL, who am I kidding), but once upon a time they served my girly teen spirit just right.

Turned out that the first city which became my home in the US was also a favorite muse of McKuen and his place of birth (Oakland technically.)

Here’s a McKuen poem about a familiar street (to me,) at the corner of the hippydom’s Mecca in San Francisco's Haight - Ashbury dist., there’s Stanyan Street and other sorrows….

And now unable to sleep
because the day is finally coming home
because your sleep has locked me out
I watch you and wonder at you.

I know your face by touch when it’s dark
I know the profile of your sleeping face
the sound of you sleeping.
… I have total recall of you
and Stanyan Street
because I know it will be important later.
It’s quiet now.
Only the clock
moving toward rejection tomorrow
breaks the stillness.

-Rod McKuen, from Stanyan Street and other Sorrows 

Not earth shattering, not even poetry by many people’s standards, but somehow those lines got me started on writing and have led to this day that you’ve to endure my blog.

McKuen was still hale and hearty when I had made the original post in 2006. I had assumed he was still alive. Today while checking upon him on the internet after ages, I found that he had passed away four years ago, this month at the age of 81.

Rest in peace, my dear poet and thank you for your songs.