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Rod McKuen, The Cheeseburger To Poetry's Haute Cuisine


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."


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.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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