In America, sentimentality, like Caesar's wife, is above reproach. Ours may be a violent civilization, crime-ridden and hard-skinned, but here the gangster and the businessman, the whore and the secretary have one quality in common: in the wee after-hours, turning on the stereo, or thumbing a volume of poems, perhaps by Rod McKuen, they enjoy a good cry. ""So thank you for the flowers and the snow/this morning/and for jam from the delicatessen/and for loving me./Thank you for this one-room world/that is all I need/when you're here."" Webster's defines sentiment as, among other things, ""a complex organization of ideas and instincts, built up in the course of the individual's experience."" Rod McKuen, of course, is unfailingly simplistic, but his poems and songs, the weighted witlessness of his melancholy vignettes, the shot voice and silver hair, the cloudy furtiveness and guitar strings, all evoke a particular pathos, the sorrows of Mister Clean, an anthology of unspecified hungers and muted longings, especially appealing to the middle-aged temperament, to college students as well as their parents, saturated in these septic times, yet hoping for miracles of old, and the more absurd the better: ""I know that love/like radios and ripe bananas/is auctioned in the market place/and all things meant to last were made/pre-1940./Still a man can smile while waiting for the light to change/and hope the Virgin Mary on her busy rounds/will stop to drink strong coffee/on the English Common or in a North Beach square."" It is impossible to praise or dispraise such verse. In Rod McKuen we have the marriage of Hallmark and Hollywood, a union second only, financially speaking, to that of Jackie and Onassis.