Friday, December 1, 2017

Back to Square One with Rod McKuen

photo © Mark Butkus 2015
In someone's shadow, in someone's desert?

On a recent roadtrip to the Arizona desert I came across a book of poetry from Rod McKuen. Having devoured McKuen in my early 20s I had stopped reading him because he was deemed unfashionable and not to be taken seriously. Funny thing, 30 years later I see more of McKuen in my poetry than in all the "serious" poets that I tried to emulate.

But this isn't my story. It's not Rod McKuen's story either. This is Wayne's story and the poem he wrote on the inside cover of McKuen's In Someone's Shadow back in 1969 titled, Square One.

Square One

I wish that you had read the book
Instead of only borrowed it
Maybe it would have helped you understand
What's happened to us.
We almost made it.
But then you had to make me choose.
You must have known
I couldn't deny my dad
And if I could, you wouldn't want me.
You were never competing,
And ironically enough, everybody knew it
But you.
You should have known
You didn't have to ask about the party.
But maybe that was my fault.
I couldn't handle your insecurity
And mine, at the same time.
I was beginning to make some plans again.
To have some dreams
And now, it's back to square one
I'd rather have you happy
Even if it means not having you at all.

— Wayne

In reading Square One, the reader is left to decide who their sympathies lie with, Wayne or his unnamed muse. Whatever became of either? Did Wayne's plans and dreams come to fruition? Did his muse live a happy life?

As for Rod KcKuen (1933-2015), In Someone's Shadow was his sixth book of poetry and was released at the height of his fame. The year before, McKuen won a Grammy for the audio recording of his Lonesome Cities. His books of poetry sold in excess of 60 million copies. In the 1950s the Oakland native read his poetry in the coffee houses across the bay in San Francisco alongside Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg; the poets I tried to emulate.

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