I never thought I would ever write about Rod McKuen

February 1, 2015

Tags: Rod McKuen

I was too young to be mesmerized by Rod McKuen. I came along when he was reviled for being popular & terrible, & I jumped right on the bandwagon of sneer. He had no defenders in my hip little East Village gang of poets. I was busy recoiling from anything that seemed corny or sentimental, in case anybody thought I was corny or sentimental.

If he'd been a bad writer without being successful, no one would have cared. But as Aram Saroyan said in "Rod’s Lonely Night," (a piece that Michael Lally, in his own (& as usual generous) post about McKuen, links to), "I should say that poets, generally perceived as ivory tower dreamers and underpaid to the point of extinction, are among the most vainglorious and unforgiving in the matter of readings, appointments, anthologies, and the like, none of it amounting to a hill of beans."

I agree he wasn't treated fairly & poets are jerks, but he it's also true that he was a terrible poet. If I spotted a book of his on a possible's shelves, I went home. I am reminded of a story (that I am probably not quoting accurately), that a Times(?) theater reviewer panned a new play (was it Our Town?). A friend said, But I saw you at the theater & you were crying your eyes out—how can you write what you did? And the reviewer said, It's easy to tug the heartstrings but that doesn't make it art.


  1. February 3, 2015 1:10 PM EST
    have to say at my age (72) what others claim is "good" or "great" or "bad" seems more subjective than ever from my perspective...I had a much bigger problem with the poetry world falling at the feet of Billy Collins in recent years than I did with Rod McKuen's attempts to write from the heart in a way that readers who didn't "get" most poetry, got...but then again, I haven't heard McKuen (how I first was introduced to him, a girlfriend had one of his records) or read him in many many decades so...
    - lally
  2. February 3, 2015 1:32 PM EST
    It can be subjective to you, because you know the difference between good & bad. I think now I might have reacting when I wrote this to the anti-intellectual, your-ignorance-is-as-good-as-my-expertise stuff going around, like the anti-vaccination crew. Even if I'm wrong, I'm interested in both why I react in a particular way to a poet's work & how I defend it (or not). You're much nicer than me, Lal.
    - Elinor Nauen
  3. February 3, 2015 1:33 PM EST
    Oh & thanks for responding (& all the other times you do). You inspire me all the time.
    - xoElinor