on the Stanyan logo to subscribe to the McKuen Mailing List
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.
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
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
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
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
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,
weep their burthen to the ground,
Man comes and
tills the field and lies beneath,
many a summer dies the swan.
Me only cruel
wither slowly in thine arms,
Here at the
quiet limit of the world,
white-haired shadow roaming like a dream
ever-silent spaces of the East,
mists, and gleaming halls of morn.
Read it again, please. Warmly,
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:
The main page
of the site is here:
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
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
I hope he was.
November 5, 1966
-from "STANYAN STREET &
Thanks for writing, Douglas
and congratulations again on a very attractive and informative web site.
Kindest Regards, Rod.
THE BIRTHDAY LISTS
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
Catch Rod McKuen Live!
Songs of Johnny Mercer - Luckman Arts Center, LA
An Evening with
Rod McKuen - B.B. King's Blues Club, NYC