Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Book Review: Listen to the Warm

"I am what I am
sulking will not change that
but apple pies and warm hands help
and I have never known a cat
that couldn't calm me down
by walking slowly past my chair."

- Thirteen
It would absolutely be a lie if I told you there was never a point in my life in which I turned up my nose at poetry, tossing it off as stuffy and boring. I'm sure I spent most of my middle school, and maybe even the first part of my high school, experience being bored to death during the poetry units in English class. Maybe it's simply the poetry that my teachers chose to include in the cirriculum, but not much grabbed me. Sure, Emily Dickinson and Poe were always a thrill because of their morbid thinking - but otherwise flowers and nature and lost lovers just didn't really fit me.

Last year my mother gifted me two slim, hard covered volumes of poetry written by Rod Mckuen, filled with words of love for cats and autumnal days. Even his talks of nature didn't bother me and his views on love were simple and beautiful in a romantic way that wasn't gushy and didn't cause one to roll their eyes. Everything about his writing struck me as perfectly readable. Rod Mckuen had a way of wording things so that they sat there, blindingly simple and obvious, but never in a way that I'd ever think to word it myself.

"They can keep their butterfly collections
their nineteen-thirties songs and one-room trips.
I want to see the world within the circle of your arms
and sail the wide sea of your thighs.

These are the days of the dancing
six feet apart.
And what was your first name anyway?"
- The Days of the Dancing

Listen to the Warm, published in 1967, remains my favourite collection of poetry by Mckuen and I frequently stash the book in my work bag or my backpack to read when I have a moment of calm. My favourite poem changes routinely and I can re-read each one over several times, retaining full appreciation and wonder for every word. He was often accused of being a flake poet, overly kitsch with no real talent. I related to Mckuens writing in a way that he was a true romantic. Things fell together and then fell apart, with him knowing all along the way that they would end in such a way. So much of poetry is about why things had to happen the way they did and if only they hadn't, where'd they be now? Seeing as I'm not much of a sentimentalist, most poets view on love never struck me. Mckuen held on to small details. His writing is wonderfully descriptive and has a certain "stuck in the sixties" appeal. Kitschy, maybe, but I'm all for kitsch and have no problems with references to Shirley Temple or Mama Cass.

The main problem which awaits you with reading Rod Mckuen is how you're going to track him down. I've scoured the public libraries, second hand book stores, and even rainy garage sales to no avail. Despite selling millions of copies during his hay day, they have all seemed to vanish...or maybe they remain faithfully in the bookcases of the hippies and the romantics and all the people who originally fell in love with Mckuen's simple words of love and faith and longing. I know that I'll always treasure his book of imaginative poetry, reading it on buses and in breakrooms for many years to come.
"I wanted to write you and tell you that maybe
love songs from lovers are unnecessary.
We are what we feel and writing it down
seems foolish sometimes without vocal sound.
But I spent the day drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes
and looking in the mirror practicing my smile."
- Song Without Words


Meli said...

This is lovely! It's a shame it's so difficult to find.

the vapours said...

Thanks for putting me onto Mckuen. I'm a big fan of
poetry and oriental cats.