Book Report: In Someone’s Shadow by Rod McKuen (1969, 1970)

I finally broke down and bought this book from the Bridgeton Trails branch of the St. Louis County Library for a quarter. If you peruse the poetry sections of used books stores, garage sales, or many new book stores, you find an awful lot of this McKuen guy’s work. I’ve pooh-poohed them because 1. They’re popular and prevalent, and 2. That funky old-timey script and design probably indicates that they’re old, from like the 60s or something and probably chock full of San Franscisco park goodness.

Well, sorta.

The book started out exceedingly well, with a poem dedicated to Jerry Kramer, the former right guard for the Green Bay Packers (Instant Replay: The Green Bay Diary of Jerry Kramer reviewed). I mean, a poem dedicated to a Green Bay Packer. You don’t get much better than that.

That poem, which deals with the aging and retirement of a great, and the other pieces within the book are eminently accessible, as their language is facile and freeversic. So I could follow each poem, enjoy some of them, and spot a turn of phrase or two that was clever. And by the next day, I’d remember little. Very light poetry, with little of lasting sustenance. I can’t imagine trying to memorize one of these to perform at an open mike night, unlike “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, “Love, Though For This You Riddle Me With Darts”, or “The World Is Too Much With Us”.

Still, sometime in the 1960s, apparently McKuen was a popular poetry dynamo, with millions of books of poetry in print and albums of spoken/sung poetry, hit records for other people, and other things that landed him an IMDB entry. The most financially successful poet of all time, and he’s all but forgotten thirty years later. Unlike, say, Robert Frost.

Like his fellow popular celebrity singer/poet Leonard Cohen (Selected Poems 1956-1968 review), perhaps McKuen did more harm than good to poetry by making it so accessible, so real, and so ultimately like spun cotton candy that required no digestion other than putting it on one’s tongue. I mean, they’re not bad poets, but if they’re held up to the popular mind as the ultimate in poetry, well, the public mind has digested it and has turned elsewhere for sustenance.

So it’s not a bad book, and I won’t dodge 25 cent offerings of other McKuen books in the future, but I don’t rate him among the giants of the field, past or present.

On a side note, this book is the first one read to my son. Remember, 25% of your purchases through the Amazon links below will be dedicated to my boy’s future therapy.

Books mentioned in this review:



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