THIS ONE DOES IT
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.
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
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
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.
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
WANTS TO GIVE IT BACK TO AMERICA
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
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
"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
"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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
"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