Tuesday, November 15, 2011

acorns and Rod McKuen

I had this swell idea to make felted acorn ornaments for my Christmas tree, and I bought a nice roll of wool roving at the farmer's market.  Today I realized I never found acorn tops for said project. As it is already snowing sometimes, and things are damp and raked up, my chances of finding acorn tops are small.  I went out today and found a handful of tiny acorn tops, a Northern Flicker, Two Downy Woodpeckers, a bunch of Pie-billed Grebes, a Bald Eagle, and a loon.  There are a lot of walnut trees in the neighborhood.  Many birds, many walnut shells, not enough acorn tops. And of course, I was only armed with a notebook & pen. No camera.

A Northern Flicker I saw in Boston



Somehow, all of this walking around looking at the ground got me thinking about Rod McKuen.  I've been thinking about him a bit lately.  He was the first "real" poet I'd ever read (the quotes are meant to exclude nursery rhymes, prayers, and framed embroidery works about Jesus).  When I was in high school, I stole one of his books from the library-- a small, hardcover collection.  There were maybe 10 poems that I loved, and I ripped out some of the poems I didn't love, then I collaged the life out of the other not-great poems.  I have fond memories of sitting around a table at the Moasis truck stop drinking coffee with friends and inhaling second-hand smoke while reading Rod McKuen aloud.  I can't remember if anyone else was into it the way I was, but I was super-into it.  Rod McKuen and "My So-Called Life:"  There's me at the truck stop, 1996ish.

So, imagine my surprise, alarm, shock, distress, when, 4 years later I'm in "American Lit after the Civil War," and we're reading "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," and the professor says something, I can't remember what exactly, about the awfulness of Rod McKuen.  I was just a kid! I took his word for it without hesitating and felt so ashamed that I had loved Rod McKuen and worse that I HATED reading Eliot.  It made me despise Eliot and all poets I read in that class.  Especially Whitman.*  I had long packed away my Rod McKuen-collage-books (that's right, I went on to pilfer more), but I was disheartened to be told that what I loved was terrible.

So, why am I bringing this up now?  I'm older, wiser, better read, and I've been wondering, what was so bad about Rod McKuen?  When I tell poets about my introduction to poetry, I still get gasps of horror in response (Although one poet I know told me his dad slept with Rod McKuen... is that better or worse than a gasp of horror?  the same? I'm not sure.).  All I can remember of his poetry is this:

"Stanyan Street and Other Sorrows" begins: "I've come as far away as means and mind can take me, trying to forget you." And it ends: "Stanyan Street, and other sorrows."

I'm unsure about the punctuation there or where the lines break, but this doesn't sound too bad, right? I mean, it was the 70s/80s, right?  But, I'd like to find my books and see what I really liked about this poetry and if it holds up to a much more critical eye. 

And on considering perusing through my old boxes of junk in the basement, I realized that my accumulation of junk-in-storage has significantly decreased over the course of 3 moves.  When I moved to Madison from the Appleton area, I left tons of stuff in storage at my dad's house, even more boxes at my mom's... We now have maybe 8 boxes of stored stuff downstairs.  So, finding the books might not be too challenging, but there are lots of centipedes in the basement, so I'll have to put my brave-pants on.

I'm guessing that once I find them, I will still love them.  Love, as in: the way you love your best friend from childhood who makes you buy dinner every time you get together, and then you go home and complain about her to your husband, and he's like, "Why do you still talk to her if she's so awful?" and you're like, "Because we were best friends!" And of course you get together with her again.  Of course you do.

*In my (and Eliot's) defense, now that I understand how to read a poem, I love "Prufrock" most particularly.  "I shall wear my trousers rolled..." (Insert dreamy sigh and far-away-look here....)

1 comment:

  1. Hello Angela- I loved your article and, by the way, I just released a compact disc of Rod McKuen songs because I love his songwriting and, it not only holds up, in my opinion, it gets better.Sincerely, John SaFranko

    ReplyDelete