Listen to the Warm by Rod McKuen

The publication date of this volume is unclear. In its place are several copyright notices of individual works within it, ranging from 1963-1967
Checked out 6 times in 27 years
Last checked out 12 years ago

The prevalence of Rod McKuen, usually in multiple volumes, on the shelves of small libraries has perplexed me for years. It still perplexes me now that I’ve read his poetry, though a little less after looking him up online. He was a successful songwriter based in and around Hollywood in the 1960s. Somehow he leveraged this success (a ready-made readership?) into publication of his poetry and songs by such mainstream presses as Random House. His poetry is accessible, though rather shallow, and apparently became popular during his time. However, there’s little of lasting value in it. It turns out he was merely popular. There’s nothing in his poetry to warrant keeping it on the shelves. The language is bland and the sentiments lukewarm, even when he writes of killing a man (excerpted from “Thirty-two”):

I killed a man today.
The only thing I’d hurt before
was you one time while making love
and then I only kissed too hard.

His war poetry is the only thing that comes close to making this book significant, yet, like this example, it’s detached, lightly descriptive, as though his coping mechanism in that situation was to remain emotionally removed from the experience, which may have been psychologically wise but which makes for dry poetry. In this case, his sentimental statement about never hurting anything before is also unbelievable and shows a lack of realistic self-assessment. Much better poetry has been written about the experience of war.

Let Rod McKuen go–all of his poetry. The subject matter isn’t rural, religious, or family-oriented. At the very least, clearing it off the shelf will make room for today’s popular poets who won’t likely stand the test of time (as I suspect will be true of the poetry of Jewel).

Whenever buying the books of individual poets, there’s a danger of picking those who will eventually fall into the second rate or lower category. For this reason, I don’t recommend small libraries buy many books by a single poet. I’ve seen libraries that have every book by someone who has been named Poet Laureate or has won a pulitzer. It’s unwise. Be cautious. In my opinion, it’s much more useful to your patrons, and a better use of your budget, to sample widely of current poetry and wait to see who is canonized by multiple awards and a lasting readership.


About jppoetryreader

Poetry reviewer and poetry consultant for libraries
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