Dorothy Parker and the Art of Light Verse

30 August, 2007

Life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea,
And love is a thing that can never go wrong
And I am Marie of Roumania.

Dorothy Parker (August 22, 1893 – June 7, 1967) in Los Angeles in the 1930s. Dorothy Parker said she wished she could write like a man and drink like a lady. Perhaps we should be grateful she got it the other way around. Along with her criticism and more serious writing, she penned astute and witty light verse much of which demonstrates her talent to use language like a well-plucked lyre.

As John Hollander points out in his erudite critique, Dorothy Parker and the Art of Light Verse*, the mention of the once celebrated Marie of Roumania no longer has the resonance it did when Mrs Parker penned those lines. He suggests that today those thoughts would need use a more contemporary figure as a punch line. Here is my modest example:

Life’s bounties pour upon me like rain
Life’s riches unceasingly grand.
Love is a never-ending refrain,
And I am Premier of Queensland.

OK, I said modest. Besides, she had scant respect for critics of her scansion:

Say I’m neither brave nor young
Say I woo and coddle care,
Say the devil touched my tongue
Still you have my heart to wear.

But say my verses do not scan,
And I get me another man!

Many of Mrs Parker’s aphoristic verses were effectively oozed by Jennifer Jason Leigh in the Robert Altman production Mrs Parker and the Vicious Circle. In this there is much of the ambiance of American letters in the 1920s with its literary knights’ nights of jousting with wit-tipped lance and broad-sword tongue at the round table at the Algonquin Hotel, 59 West 44th Street, New York City.

I hope to get back there sometime to pay it a visit. Hommage, actually.

*First published in the Yale Review 85:1, 1997