I am going to postulate that McKuen poetry before 1970 was tolerable, and that after 1970 not so much. I wonder if the quality of the books correlates inversely to the amount of I AM KING OF THE WORLD fluff appears in the about the author page. Perhaps by the time 1990 rolls around, McKuen cured cancer, in addition to being the best selling poet of all time and a sellout recording artist.
These poems run right to the next, with little to differentiate them from any of the others or the rest of the canon. Maybe there’s slightly more reminiscing about getting laid than actual getting laid, but that vein runs throughout. As this is supposed to be his most personal book ever (at least to 1972), I’d rather have read his book of best poems.
The introduction indicates he’s kinda dealing with the death of his mother, but without the introduction, I’d not have known. Of course, the last poem, “The Leaving of Little Joe”, starts out as a poignant reflection on his mother’s death using the metaphor of his mother’s favorite cat running off, but as with many of McKuen’s poems, you turn the page and there’s not a new title indicating a new poem. Instead, for some reason, the current poem goes on. And what might have been a touching reflection on his mother’s death turns into a poem about cats. Maybe the continued, extending metaphor was too subtle or sublime for me, but it was just a long poem about cats.
Why do I read these books? I don’t know. Somehow, I kinda feel for the KING OF THE WORLD, whose poetry was taught in colleges all around the world in 1972 falling into obscurity in the course of 20 years; by the time I got to college, nobody talked about McKuen. Instead, oddly, we talked about Shakespeare, Sidney, Spenser, Eliot, and Millay (although those conversations were sort of one-sided).