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


It really is “Massage”.

14 July, 2006

The Medium (really is) the Massage

In case it appears that I made a monster typo or my sense of humour is even more askew than usual, here is the book in question. I did my best to wipe off the coffee mug rings but the photograph is as is and un-retouched. The title is more often misquoted than any I can think of. Could McLuhan have been making some point here?


The more things change …

14 July, 2006

Socrates was perturbed by the concept of Google more than 2,300 years ago.

Mashall McLuhan

Marshall McLuhan knew this and related the philosopher’s concern in his 1967 book, The Medium is the Massage.

The discovery of the alphabet will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external, written characters and not remember of themselves … they appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing.” — Phaedrus.

Marshall McLuhan died on the last day of 1980, long before Google was more than a noise that happy babies made.

I bought my paperback copy of The Medium is the Massage from the Central Department Store on Wang Burapma in Bangkok in 1969 where I was creative director of the Thai office of the advertising agency McCann-Erickson. It smells brownly the way old books do, but it has held up well.

The cover price was US$1.45, about 30 baht as best I recall. For an extra ten baht around the corner you could get a carton of marijuana filter-tips complete with government tax seals.