Poetry Wednesday: Parker on Poetry

Travel, trouble, music, art,
A kiss, a frock, a rhyme-
I never said they feed my heart,
But still they pass my time.

—Dorothy Parker, “Faute De Mieux”

I’m on my way to Muncie, Indiana, and what with one thing and another, I had not world enough or time to do an in-depth poetry post—I know I’ve been saying that a lot lately, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

So I’m throwing myself on the relative mercy of Dorothy Parker, who had, as you might expect, a couple of things to say about verses and the writing thereof:

dorothy_parker

A Pig’s-Eye View Of Literature
(Dorothy Parker)

The Lives and Times of John Keats,
Percy Bysshe Shelley, and
George Gordon Noel, Lord Byron

Byron and Shelley and Keats
Were a trio of Lyrical treats.
The forehead of Shelley was cluttered with curls,
And Keats never was a descendant of earls,
And Byron walked out with a number of girls,
But it didn’t impair the poetical feats
Of Byron and Shelley,
Of Byron and Shelley,
Of Byron and Shelley and Keats.

Parker

For A Lady Who Must Write Verse
(Dorothy Parker)

Unto seventy years and seven,
Hide your double birthright well-
You, that are the brat of Heaven
And the pampered heir to Hell.

Let your rhymes be tinsel treasures,
Strung and seen and thrown aside.
Drill your apt and docile measures
Sternly as you drill your pride.

Show your quick, alarming skill in
Tidy mockeries of art;
Never, never dip your quill in
Ink that rushes from your heart.

When your pain must come to paper,
See it dust, before the day;
Let your night-light curl and caper,
Let it lick the words away.

Never print, poor child, a lay on
Love and tears and anguishing,
Lest a cooled, benignant Phaon
Murmur, “Silly little thing!”

parker-writing

Fighting Words*
(Dorothy Parker)

Say my love is easy had,
Say I’m bitten raw with pride,
Say I am too often sad—
Still behold me at your side.

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!

 

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*I know I’ve shared this one before, but it bears repeating, ’cause it’s true.

Poetry Wednesday: Dorothy Parker

Observation
(Dorothy Parker)

If I don’t drive around the park,
I’m pretty sure to make my mark.
If I’m in bed each night by ten,
I may get back my looks again,
If I abstain from fun and such,
I’ll probably amount to much,
But I shall stay the way I am,
Because I do not give a damn.

What can one say about Dorothy Parker that hasn’t already been said?

She’s an icon, a feminist, a civil rights activist, a depressive, an alcoholic, a fighter, a brightly lipsticked mouth saying things ladies simply don’t say—or didn’t, before she showed us we could.

And a damned fine poet.

The problem was choosing my favorites . . . The best I could do was choose the ones that I liked best today. * If I’m missing your favorite, lay it on us in the comments!


Song of Perfect Propriety

(Dorothy Parker)
Oh, I should like to ride the seas,
A roaring buccaneer;
A cutlass banging at my knees,
A dirk behind my ear.
And when my captives’ chains would clank
I’d howl with glee and drink,
And then fling out the quivering plank
And watch the beggars sink.

I’d like to straddle gory decks,
And dig in laden sands,
And know the feel of throbbing necks
Between my knotted hands.
Oh, I should like to strut and curse
Among my blackguard crew….
But I am writing little verse,
As little ladies do.

Oh, I should like to dance and laugh
And pose and preen and sway,
And rip the hearts of men in half,
And toss the bits away.
I’d like to view the reeling years
Through unastonished eyes,
And dip my finger-tips in tears,
And give my smiles for sighs.

I’d stroll beyond the ancient bounds,
And tap at fastened gates,
And hear the prettiest of sound-
The clink of shattered fates.
My slaves I’d like to bind with thongs
That cut and burn and chill….
But I am writing little songs,
As little ladies will.


Neither Bloody Nor Bowed

(Dorothy Parker)

They say of me, and so they should,
It’s doubtful if I come to good.
I see acquaintances and friends
Accumulating dividends,
And making enviable names
In science, art, and parlor games.
But I, despite expert advice,
Keep doing things I think are nice,
And though to good I never come—
Inseparable my nose and thumb!

Threnody
(Dorothy Parker)

Lilacs blossom just as sweet
Now my heart is shattered.
If I bowled it down the street,
Who’s to say it mattered?
If there’s one that rode away
What would I be missing?
Lips that taste of tears, they say,
Are the best for kissing.
Eyes that watch the morning star
Seem a little brighter;
Arms held out to darkness are
Usually whiter.
Shall I bar the strolling guest,
Bind my brow with willow,
When, they say, the empty breast
Is the softer pillow?
That a heart falls tinkling down,
Never think it ceases.
Every likely lad in town
Gathers up the pieces.
If there’s one gone whistling by
Would I let it grieve me?
Let him wonder if I lie;
Let him half believe me.

Fighting Words
(Dorothy Parker)

Say my love is easy had,
Say I’m bitten raw with pride,
Say I am too often sad—
Still behold me at your side.

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!

A Certain Lady
(Dorothy Parker)

Oh, I can smile for you, and tilt my head,
And drink your rushing words with eager lips,
And paint my mouth for you a fragrant red,
And trace your brows with tutored finger-tips.
When you rehearse your list of loves to me,
Oh, I can laugh and marvel, rapturous-eyed.
And you laugh back, nor can you ever see
The thousand little deaths my heart has died.
And you believe, so well I know my part,
That I am gay as morning, light as snow,
And all the straining things within my heart
You’ll never know.

Oh, I can laugh and listen, when we meet,
And you bring tales of fresh adventurings, —
Of ladies delicately indiscreet,
Of lingering hands, and gently whispered things.
And you are pleased with me, and strive anew
To sing me sagas of your late delights.
Thus do you want me — marveling, gay, and true,
Nor do you see my staring eyes of nights.
And when, in search of novelty, you stray,
Oh, I can kiss you blithely as you go ….
And what goes on, my love, while you’re away,
You’ll never know.

If you’d like to hear her read some of her other poems, records can be found over at Dot City, a website devoted to Dorothy Parker’s life in New York.

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* I’m apparently feeling pretty feisty for someone who had four hours sleep last night.