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Rod McKuen, The Cheeseburger To Poetry's Haute Cuisine

Jan 31, 2015
Originally published on January 31, 2015 1:14 pm
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

An un-poetic analogy now. Rod McKuen was to poetry what cheeseburgers are to haute cuisine - widely mocked and extremely popular, and maybe harder to do well than people think. Rod McKuen died this week at the age of 81 of pneumonia. He was also a singer and songwriter who wrote songs for Barbra Streisand, Perry Como, Dusty Springfield and Frank Sinatra and translated the works of Jacques Brel and brought them to America.

Rod McKuen began to publish books of poetry in the 1960s - "Listen To The Warm," "Lonesome Cities," a score of others. He's sold more than a million books in 1968 alone and recorded his poems, too, including "My Friend The Sea."

(SOUNDBITE OF POETRY READING, "MY FRIEND THE SEA")

ROD MCKUEN: Do you know my friend the sea? He watches everything we do. You, rolling over in your beach bank sleep.

SIMON: Karl Shapiro, the U.S. Poet Laureate, said it is irrelevant to speak of McKuen as a poet. But whatever he was, Rod McKuen sold millions. He retired from performing live in 1981, suffering from depression. But he got better and began to give an annual birthday concert in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.