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Photograph by Edward Habib McKuen, 2/1/2002.
© Stanyan Music Group. All rights reserved.

A Thought for Today

Because pride seldom lets us beg forgiveness, we must content ourselves with dying a little each time a door is closed.

 

Another week and time to attempt a catch-up on the mail. Here’s your Monday morning quarter back and some other loose change.

TENNYSON

I have been asked to compare yourself and Tennyson and wondered what your opinion on this matter is; Unfortunately I do not know your poetry well, although on reading all the poems on your website I am an instant fan; Your writing is so inspirational, moving and uncomplicated. Thank you for making poetry real again. Hayley Harding

Dear Hayley: What modern poet wouldn’t enjoy being compared to Lord Alfred Tennyson?

We have much in common; to be sure we share the joy and curse of being considered ‘romantic’ poets. Neither of us are / were easily satisfied with our poems. Long after their initial publication he went on revising and tightening his poems. He spent his life revising his work as I do mine. The poem is never so good that it cannot be improved upon by wisdom and afterthought.

Tennyson’s poetry was of its time for its time. He was influenced by what was going on around him. I have always written from that same perspective.

We both suffered with and overcame a decade of depression. Mine was clinical and difficult to diagnose. From all accounts Lord Tennyson’s ten-year period of gloom was brought about by the 1833 death of his life-long friend Arthur Hallam.

And there are major differences; my poems tend to rhyme the language, not the word. My style is my own through lack of formal education. I achieve my meter by the placement of the line upon the page not by tradition that requires every line adhere to a common margin and be capitalized.

Tennyson’s poetry finds its meter in not just familiar but good odd rhymes. His style was developed through assimilation that only a Trinity College education could give him. He wisely discarded what didn’t work for him, while retaining and improving on what did.

Tennyson’s imitators have had more success than mine because they have the rhyming word to fall back upon. There are many who copy my work but few if any take the time to get inside my particular and peculiar language. They nearly always miss the inner rhyme and what isn’t said that makes my poetry unique to me.

Alas my song lyrics have often been lumped with my poems. To my own detriment and the joy of my detractors. The constraint of a 32 bar melody limits a song lyric in terms of poetic content. When an author writes both poetry and the words to songs he becomes an easy mark for the lazy critic or the one with built in prejudice. Review my lyrics or my poetry or both, but please don’t count them as a single body of work.

Tennyson had his share of detractors. The more famous he became in his own lifetime the more his poetry was savaged by many of his contemporaries. When my own work first started to appear the same people who became detractors once I began to find a wider audience are those who initially lauded me.

Both of us enjoyed the embrace of W. H. Auden who wrote of Tennyson, “His genius was lyrical.” Auden’s comment on my work “Rod McKuen writes love letters that often go astray. I am happy to say that many of them have found their way to me.”

No one is indifferent about our work. It’s rave or rant depending on the reader. Lord Alfred never found it easy to adjust to criticism. I have learned to take it in stride and for what it is – someone else’s opinion. History has vindicated Tennyson and poems like “The Lady of Shalott,” “Oenone,” The Miller’s Daughter and “The Dream of Fair Women” are proof that he was every bit as poetic as his much read contemporary Robert Browning.

I will never know if “Lillian at Fifty,” “The Truthful Lover” or “I Always Knew” will make it to another century. It doesn’t matter. It’s enough for me that I continue to have a voice that I am more than willing to exercise. I learn by writing and if in the process I inform others, so much the better.

Would I like a residency at a university to pass on what I know? You bet. If it happens the invitation will probably come from Great Britain where modern academia is far less stilted and more open and adventurous than it is in my own country. After all, it took a college in England to realize that Stephen Sondheim might have wisdom worth sharing with future lyricists.

You or somebody else will have to definitively answer the often-asked question of whether or not my work and that of Tennyson’s share enough commonalities to merit study.

I enjoy Alfred Tennyson’s work and your letter has sent me back to it for a refresher course. Let me leave you with a question; has anyone better described love near the end of life than Tennyson does in the first ten lines of Tithonus? Here they are:

            The woods decay, the woods decay and fall,
            The vapours weep their burthen to the ground,
            Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath,
            And after many a summer dies the swan.
            Me only cruel immortality
            Consumes: I wither slowly in thine arms,
            Here at the quiet limit of the world,
            A white-haired shadow roaming like a dream
            The ever-silent spaces of the East,
            Far-folded mists, and gleaming halls of morn.

Read it again, please. Warmly, Rod.

RICHARD FARINA

Dear Rod McKuen, I am the author of the Richard and Mimi Farina Website and I would like to request permission to print your poem, Richard Farina, on my website. I would be happy to include a link to your site on mine if you'd like. I have Stanyan Street listed on the Dedications page:

http://www.mindspring.com/~dec20/dedications.html

The main page of the site is here:

http://www.mindspring.com/~dec20/farina.html

Also, could you tell me if you've ever recorded this poem (and if so, on which album?), and if you ever met Richard or Mimi?

Thank you very much, Douglas Cooke

Dear Douglas: I checked out your Web site and I like it a lot. I was able to glean much information about Mimi and Richard that it never would have occurred to me to inquire into. It’s definitely one of the best fan sites I’ve come across and I know those who appreciate the collected works of the Farina’s will appreciate it as much as I do. That’s why I included the address with your letter.

By all means add my poem to your site with a link. If you do I’ll consider it an honor. When our Stanyan Website makes its debut we plan to include links to web sites I enjoy. Yours will definitely be among them.

I didn’t get to know Richard and Mimi well but Richard and I participated in some of the same anti-war activities. And, without mentioning names, I’ve had more than one good conversation about Richard with a brilliant reclusive writer who is every bit as taken with his work as I have always been.

Richard’s death at 29 unnerved me. He was a good man and his great talent had barely been scratched. I rode against Richard’s back a couple of times on the same bike that carried him away from us.

I never got around to recording my poem for Richard but for those who might not be familiar with it here it is.

RICHARD FARINA / FOR MIMI

He died as though
he’d read his own book
and believed that folks should die that way.

                           They shouldn’t you know.
Especially the poetic few
who say so much for all of us
with knotted tongues.

These men should die in poppy fields
old and withered, used up, done,
their last days spent as children once again.

Twenty-nine is young enough to dig a well
and sow at least a dozen kids
and leave another song or so for us to sing
and hike a half a dozen hills.
Poets after all should walk
and be content to take their time.

But when you straddle a machine
to race along the sea
you should be prepared to die
when the machine dies
                     under you.

I hope he was.

Sausalito
November 5, 1966

-from "STANYAN STREET & OTHER SORROWS"

Thanks for writing, Douglas and congratulations again on a very attractive and informative web site. Kindest Regards, Rod.

THE BIRTHDAY LISTS

How/why Joseph Alioto on your birthday list! Is he an actor? A local friend? Love 'n prayers, Bea

Dear Bea: You’re going to hate this answer. Joseph Alioto was Mayor of San Francisco when you and I used to live there. As ever, Rod.

George Harrison would have turned just 59 today. Sleep warm and I’ll see you again tomorrow.

RM 02/25/02 Previously unpublished.

Catch Rod McKuen Live!

The Songs of Johnny Mercer - Luckman Arts Center, LA

An Evening with Rod McKuen - B.B. King's Blues Club, NYC

notable birthdays

PURIM BEGINS AT SUNDOWN

Jim Backus o Diane Baker o Anthony Burgess o Tom Courtenay o Benedetto Croce o Adele Davis o John Foster Dulles o Mildred Dunnock o Gert Frobe o Larry Gelbart o Christopher George o Carlo Goldoni o Philip Habib o George Harrison o Justin Jeffre o Neil Jordan o Lisa Kirk o Tea Leoni o Zeppo Marx o Tommy Newsom o Sally Jessy Raphael o Pierre Auguste Renoir o Emitt Rhodes o Bobby Riggs o Ron Santo o Bob Schieffer o Faron Young

Rod's random thoughts Anything that is done with love is done with care.

Impatience can be a virtue if you practice it on yourself.

More of your existence is in your power than you think.

LAST REFUGE

Eternity will leave us soon enough
                         returning to eternity
and we will have our old trees
back again and green.
The flowers
of that now far-distant spring
will come at us on chargers
                               at full gallop.
That single promise keeps
the frost outside the heart.
Here where all is frozen over,
taken in the January glass
that cracks and falls to pieces,
we see every bird that stops to rest
                             on icy branch
                                        as omen.

- from "Suspension Bridge," 1984

 
© 1966, 1984, 1996, 2002 by Stanyan Music Group & Rod McKuen. All Rights Reserved
Birthday research by Wade Alexander o Poetry from the collection of Jay Hagan o Coordinated by Melinda Smith o Sound & Fury Dr. Eric Yeager o Webmaster Ken Blackie
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