Rod McKuen Essay - Critical Essays

McKuen, Rod (Vol. 1)

McKuen, Rod 1938–

Popular American poet and singer.

McKuen's poetry is Edgar A. Guest with a twist of lemon—the sort of thing that lovesick teenagers used to keep locked away in their diaries….

Why do people buy his product? As an exercise in camp? Almost certainly not. They seem charmed and disarmed by his sentimentality, his square hipness. What the McKuen phenomenon proves is that, no matter how sophisticated or cynical the times may seem, there is always a vast market for the banal.

"Weepin' & Wooin' With Rod McKuen" (reprinted by permission of Time, The Weekly Newsmagazine; © Time, Inc., 1967), in Time, November 24, 1967, p. E6.

[It] is irrelevant to speak of McKuen as a poet. His poetry is not even trash…. [Yet] no one, least of all this reviewer, would wish McKuen ill. He is himself intelligently modest about his accomplishments. It is his publicists who fail him.

Karl Shapiro, "An Amiable, Decent, Law-Abiding, Non-Poet," in Book World, November 24, 1968.

[Rod McKuen's] talent for writing and composing is obvious, but beyond that there is a quality, deeper and more profound, that has been responsible for making Rod McKuen America's unofficial poet laureate, with an international cult of worshipers that grows with each passing day.

Marilyn Beck, in Detroit Free Press (© 1969 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 1, 1969.

Rod McKuen is the country's No. 1 one-man communications empire. Start with his composing and his singing. He has sold more [than] 100 million records and as a company, let alone an individual, ranks second only to Columbia Records. Next we move on to his poetry and his publishing. He has sold more than seven million books of verse—in hardcover, mind you, because he has never been in paperback. He represents, in fact, a substantial part of all books sold by Random House….

Mr. McKuen has little belief in best-seller lists. When The Confessions of Nat Turner was No. 1 on the list, selling between 1,000 and 1,500 copies a week, his Listen to the Warm was selling 3,000 to 7,000 a week. Nor has he any great faith in reviewers. "When I started getting bad reviews for my poetry," he told us, "I decided I'd give the critics what they wanted. I did a book of sonnets with another publisher under a pseudonym. It got great reviews but had lousy sales. So I did another. It got literally rave reviews. Then I did a third. This one really hit the top. 'After the pap of Rod McKuen,' one guy said, 'it is refreshing to come across the brilliant poetry of….'["]

Cleveland Amory, in Saturday Review, January 8, 1972, p. 18.