Rod McKuen, RIP to the King of Troubadours

150129-rod-mckuen-poet-725p_796b820602c383d4fc91346b42951db1.nbcnews-ux-520-400Does the name Rod McKuen mean anything to you?  It should, if you’re in your mid forties or older and had a mother or grandmother (or were one yourself) with a pulse in the mid 1960’s to late 1970’s.  At that time, a modestly talented San Francisco-based self-styled troubadour played on his ruffled good looks, sandy hair, and unique, scratchy voice to cultivate a beach bum schtick that made the guy millions.  He sold books of cheap, heart-wrenchingly saccharine verse to armies of misty-eyed young women, and toured the a0407909312_10country to sold out shows in large theaters. In short, he was a cultural enigma–an American poet who enjoyed wild popularity and remarkable commercial success who also happened to be a throwback folk/pop singer.  He would later go on to compose, arrange, and conduct classical music.

There was nothing groundbreaking about McKuen’s folk music or poetry–he was more a performer than an visionary, and it is certainly easy to mock his songs as simple and derivative, and his verse as simplistic and more worthy of greeting cards than anthologies–and yet, he wasn’t a “pop” artist in the truest sense of the word.  He didn’t so much tap into the trends of the time as he mined the zeitgeist of the world around him, infusing his performances with soft-focus romanticism and and outwardly heavy-handed humor which, on closer inspection, was a lot more sly than it appeared at first glance.

The three women who live with me derive great pleasure from roasting me over my frustratingly emotional, sentimental, and romantic nature–despite all the efforts of my inner misanthrope to dominate the sniveling dweeb who cries at movies and can’t manage to lie about anything important while maintaining eye contact.  It is a failure I blame urlon my mother, who played Rod McKuen records around the house and had several dozen of his books strewn about here and there, as well as Rod McKuen himself.  If he hadn’t been a sap its quite likely that I wouldn’t be, either.  I mean: look.

And now he’s dead, and it’s a little depressing.  I’ve never returned to those books or songs from my childhood, but when I see them in thrift stores and estate sales, which is almost always given the volume of his retail success and the burgeoning mortality of his fanbase, I smile a little.  To myself.  Indeed, I just read an article that classified him as “a beat poet alongside Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac,” and nearly spit out my whiskey.  It’s difficult to imagine McKuen’s kitsch held up alongside Ginsberg’s Howl, for example.  Kerouac, a more sensitive soul who, like McKuen, suffered from bouts of depression, isn’t so much of a stretch–not if you’ve read some of his verse.

And there’s the fact that Orson Scott Card, that motherfletcher disprected McKuen mightily, which is as good a reference as any.

Or that Frank Sinatra covered his music.  And Neil Diamond.

So, I admit it, knowing full well that my mom is never going to know that I said this after all the crap I gave her over the years: I still think McKuen was a lousy poety, but that doesn’t matter.  I liked the guy, and I’m forced to wonder if I’d love poetry today with the passion and intensity that I do if all that lousy poetry hadn’t been laying around the house when I was a kid.  So thanks, mom.  And to you to, Rod.

If you want to read a great essay about McKuen, check out Claire Dederer’s “Rod McKuen Appears In The Desert.”


Photo I Like

Found Photo: Charles Bukowski

Getting back into the habit of posting photos I’ve stumbled over, like they’re bricks on the night-time lawn.

Charles Bukowski, iconic mailman and poet.

Poetry: Pablo Neruda

I haven’t forgotten I owe you 3 of my favorite poems.  Here’s one:

If You Forget Me  by Pablo Neruda

I want you to know
one thing.

You know how this is:
if I look
at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch
near the fire
the impalpable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists,
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats
that sail
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.

Well, now,
if little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you little by little.

If suddenly
you forget me
do not look for me,
for I shall already have forgotten you.

If you think it long and mad,
the wind of banners
that passes through my life,
and you decide
to leave me at the shore
of the heart where I have roots,
that on that day,
at that hour,
I shall lift my arms
and my roots will set off
to seek another land.

if each day,
each hour,
you feel that you are destined for me
with implacable sweetness,
if each day a flower
climbs up to your lips to seek me,
ah my love, ah my own,
in me all that fire is repeated,
in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,
my love feeds on your love, beloved,
and as long as you live it will be in your arms
without leaving mine.

Pablo Neruda

National Poetry Month: Marianne Moore

MM yankeesThis is one of my favorites–and one I bet you never read before.  Marianne Moore should be a lot more famous than she is,   She was also a rabid baseball fan.  Imagine a time when poets could be popular enough to garner press at a Yankees game!  It’s a shame she’s been overshadowed by her male peers–but, unfortunately, that’s how it works.  Poetry may be written for the masses, but it’s preserved by moribund academic institutions, where poets like Moore remain disrespected for their commercial popularity and still–alas–trivialized for being women by a surprisingly (overcompensate much?) patriarchal establishment.  Still, this poem rocks:

He “Digesteth Harde Yron”  by Marianne Moore

Although the aepyornis
or roc that lived in Madagascar, and
the moa are extinct,
the camel-sparrow, linked
with them in size–the large sparrow
Xenophon saw walking by a stream–was and is
a symbol of justice.

This bird watches his chicks with
a maternal concentration-and he’s
been mothering the eggs
at night six weeks–his legs
their only weapon of defense.
He is swifter than a horse; he has a foot hard
as a hoof; the leopard

is not more suspicious.How
could he, prized for plumes and eggs and young
used even as a riding-beast, respect men
hiding actor-like in ostrich skins, with the right hand
making the neck move as if alive
and from a bag the left hand strewing grain, that ostriches

might be decoyed and killed!Yes, this is he
whose plume was anciently
the plume of justice; he
whose comic duckling head on its
great neck revolves with compass-needle nervousness
when he stands guard,

in S-like foragings as he is
preening the down on his leaden-skinned back.
The egg piously shown
as Leda’s very own
from which Castor and Pollux hatched,
was an ostrich-egg.And what could have been more fit
for the Chinese lawn it

grazed on as a gift to an
emperor who admired strange birds, than this
one, who builds his mud-made
nest in dust yet will wade
in lake or sea till only the head shows.

. . . . . . .

Six hundred ostrich-brains served
at one banquet, the ostrich-plume-tipped tent
and desert spear, jewel-
gorgeous ugly egg-shell
goblets, eight pairs of ostriches
in harness, dramatize a meaning
always missed by the externalist.

The power of the visible
is the invisible; as even where
no tree of freedom grows,
so-called brute courage knows.
Heroism is exhausting, yet
it contradicts a greed that did not wisely spare
the harmless solitaire

or great auk in its grandeur;
unsolicitude having swallowed up
all giant birds but an alert gargantuan
little-winged, magnificently speedy running-bird.
This one remaining rebel
is the sparrow-camel.


National Poetry Month: Jones Very

The New Birth  by Jones Very

a new life;–thoughts move not as they did
With slow uncertain steps across my mind,
In thronging haste fast pressing on they bid
The portals open to the viewless wind
That comes not save when in the dust is laid
The crown of pride that gilds each mortal brow,
And from before man’s vision melting fade
The heavens and earth;–their walls are falling now.–
Fast crowding on, each thought asks utterance strong;
Storm-lifted waves swift rushing to the shore,
On from the sea they send their shouts along,
Back through the cave-worn rocks their thunders roar;
And I a child of God by Christ made free
Start from death’s slumbers to Eternity.
Jones Very


Today Is Poetry In Your Pocket Day

Today is poetry in your pocket day–a day to delight in, savor, revere, and share poetry.  The concept is simple enough: write down a poem on a piece of paper and shove it in your pocket–crumpled, wadded up, neatly folded: it doesn’t matter.  Just get that poem in there.

Wherever you go today, take that poem out and read it to someone–a friend, a stranger, (strangers love when people approach them with a few lines of verse–trust me)  your mother, the bus driver.  Well, maybe not the bus driver, or save that for a red light.

And don’t tell me you can’t find one:



National Poetry Month–Lisa Martinovic

I like Ms. Martinovic’s tremendously vital work, but she’s sort of greedy about it–I hear about more than I can actually find on the internet, and forget about hard copy of anything.  In deference to her doling out her work in measured servings, I’m forcing you to link away from Old Road Apples…but hey, you can open this link in a new tab, so you don’t forget to come back.

Lisa Martinovic,  The Edge Is Where I Want To Be


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This is a pretty damned awesome little blog from Jynne Dilling Martin, currently (12/13) Poet In Residence at McMurdo station in Antarctica.

She’s on Twitter, too.