Welcome once again to another edition of Breakfast On The Blog. Today we pay tribute to…
THE KING OF KITSCH
This past Thursday the unofficial former American Poet Laureate, singer, songwriter and composer, Rod McKuen, passed away at the age of 81. He certainly enjoyed a long and successful life, even if most of the criticism of his poetry was vituperative. His songs sold millions of records and were covered by a wide spectrum of artists from Terry Jacks to Frank Sinatra to Madonna. I never personally cared much for his schmaltzy poetry, and concurred with his harshest critics, who, despite his popular appeal, never took his work seriously. He was a poet for and of the masses, churning out easy to read pieces of everyday banality. Frank W. Hoffmann, in Arts and Entertainment Fads, described McKuen’s poetry as “tailor-made for the 1960s … poetry with a verse that drawled in country cadences from one shapeless line to the next, carrying the rusticated innocence of a Carl Sandburg thickened by the treacle of a man who preferred to prettify the world before he described it.” Ouch. At the height of his popularity in 1969, Newsweek magazine called him “the King of Kitsch.” I thought more of his songwriting abilities. There the banality got a make over under the blanket of the music.
There was a story when I was in going from high school into college back in 1968 that, in order to get his book of poetry “Listen To The Warm” published, he released the album with a notice on the back that the companion volume was available in bookshops and from a certain publisher. The album, which sold well, had people requesting the book from the publisher, who had never heard of the book or him. He turned up and offered it to them and got it published. Now how true that is I don’t really know, but interestingly on the back of my copy there is a notice saying that the book is available in bookshops, but with no mention of the publisher. I have to admit that, if the story was true, he certainly was clever. A photo of that notice is below.
As a small tribute to McKuen I offer this poem in his memory. One must remember that McKuen’s poems were translated into eleven languages and his books sold over 1 million copies in 1968 alone. After all, very few are the poets who can earn their living through selling their works. He managed to do that, proving that there was a large and appreciative market for, as writer and critic Nora Ephron put it, poems that “are superficial and platitudinous and frequently silly.” Rest in peace Rod…
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