20 March 2000










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A Thought for Today

Without the cold for reference, we wouldn't recognize the comfort of warmth.


Rod is on the road for a couple of weeks and will be back with you at the beginning of September.

Dear Ken,

I realize that your column is for top choices on poems and/or songs, and I love anything and every-thing Rod has ever created, but last year I was very fortunate to stumble upon a first American edition of, "We Touch the Sky".

Tucked away in this book, neatly folded, and in excellent condition, was a very interesting newspaper article about Rod McKuen, dated Sunday, October 5th, 1980. He was interviewed by Judi Hunt with the "Seattle Post-Intelligencer". I thought others including yourself might enjoy reading this article as I did. It reveals (as always) the warm, tender feelings and the strong, enlightening thoughts Rod has regarding so many important issues.

For those who don't have "The Power Bright & Shining", this triumphant and panoramic book is available for purchase at Stanyan By Mail. I've included one of my favorite poems from this collection.

With Love,


Great contribution, Sharon - thank you so much! I love the article and your choice of poem and I can't wait to read the book.

- Ken, Johannesburg, March 22, 2000

by Judi Hunt

Poet Rod McKuen "really intends" to spend the rest of his life giving back to America some of what he has gotten out of it.

"My country has been so good to me," he says, looking around the sumptuous suite he was occupying at the Washington Plaza Hotel on a recent whirlwind visit to promote his new book, "The Power Bright & Shining."

"When you think that I was born in a Salvation Army Hospital and had little formal education, it could have turned out a lot different."

"But I was lucky enough to be born in America, where anything is possible, if you want it bad enough. Sounds corny, I know, but I think I'm living proof that a person can do almost anything he wants in this country. Even if he or she was in reform school, like I was as a kid."

"Fortunately, I had a very good mother who instilled in me a sense of right and wrong. I don't know of any other thing that changed me except that."

McKuen wishes other Americans would appreciate their country, even if it hasn't been as good to them. "I know there are imperfections--- that's part of what my book is about--- but I get sick of Americans putting America down."

"When I first started writing *The Power Bright & Shining*, it was to be a love letter to America, sort of a look at the country as I'd learned to know it in my travels. But then, what with all the griping about the U.S. becoming a second-rate country, I decided to give my countrymen and women a little shove in the behind."

"If there's something wrong with this country, and with its leadership, then it's up to the citizens to change it," he says.

"And don't give me this baloney about not being able to make changes. In the past couple years, I've managed to make some small changes in adoption laws in this country since I wrote the book about searching for my father. I'm not the only one, either, who's been able to change the system."

"The voters in your own state did that just last month, by deciding they wanted a new administration--- after listening to all the politicians had to say, they voted their own minds."

Voting, he points out, is one sure way that Americans can keep an eye on the way their country is being run. "And it's up to everyone--- not just the press although I think that's an important function of the press--- to become watchdogs."

"But if you don't vote, well then, how can you make politicians realize that they're there to represent us and not just to go out and have a good time?"

McKuen wishes it could be "like it is in the Scandinavian countries. Did you know they fine you there if you don't vote? I think we should do that here, too."

He also believes that every citizen should be required to give some kind of service to the country. "I realize not everyone is cut out for the military service, but there are a lot of other ways to serve one's country."

"How about being a volunteer fireman for a certain length of time? Or volunteering to help in daycare centers or with the aging? It may be something as simple as helping the kids across the street, around the schools, or as complicated as putting in time with the military or forest service."

Despite that, McKuen isn't really keen about a draft. His view is so poignantly pointed out in his book in the poem, "To The Last Man Carrying the Last Gun":

You who send the letters
do not issue even once again,
in the name of government and justice,
numbered cards to those now leaving childhood
asking them to wait in turn to fight and die
for those things none of us
has yet been able to explain even to ourselves
let alone the children coming home from wars
not declared and never understood.

if there still be those among you
willing to commit to war,
eager to do battle for the sake of battle
let him who signs the paper in the poolroom
or the Pentagon
be the first to shoulder arms
and the only one to feel the bullet in his head.

McKuen says, "What I was really trying to get across, is that it should be the kids who make the choice of what battlefields they serve on, just as I suggest in another poem that the kids who were forced to boycott the summer Olympics should have been the ones to decide, not politicians."

He believes, "there would be fewer wars if more generals had to serve on the front lines."

The 47-year old poet, lounging in a chair in the familiar faded jeans and plaid shirt that have become a trademark, confesses that he is a pacifist.

"I don't believe one man should kill another man for any reason," he says, his gravelly voice almost a whisper.

"If I were on a jury hearing a trial for someone who had killed a member of my family--- and I realize that's not possible in our judicial system--- I would like to think I'd be a good enough human being that I wouldn't play God and ask that person to die."

"Oh, I realize there are misfits out there who shouldn't be allowed to run around, but we can afford to lock those people up and I think we should. But I don't think we should kill them."

Nor does he like the idea of people killing animals. "How did we ever come to decide that human beings are more important than plant or animal life? We have to exist in harmony with nature, not be at war with it."

McKuen touches on other concerns in the new book, which he says, "may be my best to date." Educating children, for example:

"Why is it when a city stumbles from lack of government support, mismanagement or whatever, the first thing cut in that week's budget is aid to schools and schools themselves?

Have we forgotten, or doesn't anyone believe that in a country of green forests, land aplenty, bullion in the bank, buildings tall and beautiful the only asset that this nation--- any nation seeking freedom really has, is its children."

McKuen says that poem came out of a lifelong "strong feeling about schooling, especially since I didn't have very much."

"I think our priorities are really screwed up when cities like Cleveland cut back on aid to schools, at a time when we need better schools and better teachers.

To have better teachers, we need to pay them more. Why shouldn't a teacher make as much as a doctor? Doctors save lives, sure, but teachers mold and direct them."

He admits he is "just one voice saying what he feels. I'm no guru saying things that should be taken as gospel. But I'd like to have people think about what I've said."

The often honored writer, singer and composer pauses to gobble down the remains of a hamburger--- the first meal he'd had that day--- and smiles.

"You know, this book is my 'Leaves of Grass'. Not that I'd ever try to compare it to the likes of Walt Whitman. But Whitman rewrote 'Leaves' all his life and still didn't get it the way he wants. I'm already doing that."

"And speaking of life, I'm really just beginning, even though I am in my 40's. They'll have to drag me out of this life kicking and screaming, that's how much I enjoy it."

"Still I can see why some poets commit suicide and other writers drink. Basically we're very dull people when we're not writing."

Rod McKuen concert and appearance details can be obtained via the link below.

Concert & Appearance Details

notable birthdays Charles Bulfinch o Rory Calhoun o Keith Carradine o Benny Carter o J.C. Chasez o Connie Chung o Dino De Laurentiis o Dave “The Edge” Evans o Rudy Gernreich o Arthur Goldberg o Matthew Henson o Dustin Hoffman o John Holmes o Drew Lachey o John Laws o Marcia Lewis o Bradley McIntosh o Joan Mondale o Donny Most o Webb Pierce o Robin Quivers o Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings o Sylvia Sidney o Connie Stevens o Josef Suk o Sara Teasdale o Joe Tex o Mel Tillis o Larry Wilcox o Esther Williams
Rod's random thoughts Apathy has no advantages.

Brains take second place to will.

Envy of one pocket for another pocket's goods is undesirable, especially if both are on the same pair of pants.


A handshake
is my pledge of allegiance.
My anthem
is my brother's shoulder.
My flag is the smile
on every face
stopping long enough
to return my own.
We've come down the road
                      a long way
but there are miles
as yet unwalked
as yet unpaved.

- from "The Power Bright & Shining", 1980

© 1980, 1984, 1988, 1999, 2001 by Stanyan Music Group & Rod McKuen. All Rights Reserved
Birthday research by Wade Alexander o Poetry from the collection of Jay Hagan o Coordinated by Melinda Smith
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