Rod McKuen died on January 29. He was 81.
He was a poet much derided by critics. I saw a headline this week that referred to him as the "cheeseburger to poetry's haute cuisine." But there was a time back in the '70s and '80s when he had a huge following among the public and was called the nation's unofficial poet laureate. Of course, he could never have been the official poet laureate. His poetry was considered too tepid and facile. Too simplistic really.
His poetry spoke of loss and longing, pain and love and spirituality. It was very much a product of its time and that is probably why it struck such a responsive chord with so many people. One of them was me.
In the early '70s, I devoured Rod McKuen's poetry. I bought his books. I bought a couple of albums of his poetry being spoken by Rock Hudson(!), and for months I went to bed with Rod and Rock every night - Rock Hudson's voice, Rod McKuen's words.
In time, my life changed and I moved on to other things, other poets, other writers, but I always retained the memory of McKuen's poetry and gratitude for the comfort that it gave me at a time in my life when I needed that comfort.
Here is one of his poems that I loved. Not one of his better known ones but it meant a lot to me. This is the way it appeared in his book Listen to the Warm.
The Time of Noon
by Rod McKuen
When you're alone at night
and the old memories you call back
to help you do the things
that will put you to sleep
don't work any more
and even the aphrodisiac of magazines
and there is no place to go, no one to call,
try thinking about the sun.
The way it catches in the trees sometimes.
The way it follows you while riding in a car.
The way it plays in the hair of strangers on the beach.
The way it climbs hills with you and pushes you from bed
Think about the time of noon
when everybody's just a little crazy.
Remember that the cliffs are white and steep
and you'll grow tired climbing them
tired enough to sleep.
What you're thinking about
isn't really the cause of perspiration on your forehead
it's only the sun.
It's just the time of noon.
And this - from the album "The Sea" - is the way it sounded as I fell asleep to it many, many nights...