Short & Snarky: 5 Dorothy Parker poems to know by heart

Dorothy Parker in 1932

I was introduced to Dorothy Parker in the summer of 2013 by a lovely friend who knew most of the poems by heart. I still remember us sitting on her bed with a cup of tea and passing the ‘penguin complete poems’ back and forth and reading out poems while the evening became increasingly darker. Needless to say, Dorothy Parker has been a special favourite ever since.

I recently bought a copy of Parker’s complete poems and figured I’d introduce you to some of my favourites.

The poem I remember most distinctly from that summer evening two years ago is this one:

NEWS ITEM
Men seldom make passes
At girls who wear glasses.

Both of us were wearing glasses at the time. I can tell from experience now that this is certainly not true, but it was such a familiar feeling that we were immediately struck by the poem. Another poem that touched us deeply because it’s so relatable is the following:

FABLE
Oh, there once was a lady, and so I’ve been told,
Whose lover grew weary, whose lover grew cold.
“My Child,” he remarked, “though our episode ends,
In the manner of men, I suggest we be friends.”
And the truest of friends ever after they were –
Oh they lied in their teeth when they told me of her!

I love the way in which Parker tackles the myths we are all thinking about with a lot of wit. Because, seriously, who for who has this ever really worked out? (Leave a comment below.)

ANECDOTE
So silent I when Love was by
He yawned, and turned away;
But Sorrow clings to my apron-strings,
I have so much to say.

All creativity stems from heartbreak ;). Also, do you know the feeling where you suddenly know everything you should have said AFTER a conversation? I know I do.
The fourth poem is very closely linked to this. Parker has written a lot of brief poems expressing bitterness about past loves. I have often quoted this one to books I didn’t like very much. (For shame – when I like a romance novel it’s no problem at all. )

TWO-VOLUME NOVEL
The sun’s gone dim, and
The moon’s turned black;
For I loved him, and
He didn’t love back.

Parker does really good titles, that ‘make’ the entire poem. Some of my favourites include ‘Enough Rope’, the title of her first volume of poetry, ‘General Review of the Sex Situation’ (read the poem here), quite a self-explanatory title and ‘Frustration’, in which she describes how she could kill everyone she hates (here). This last poem directs us to the darker side of Dorothy Parker’s poems, where a lot of black humor underlies the wit.

RESUME
Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.

It has cheered you up no end, hasn’t it? These darker poems are a lot rougher but still have a bright clearness and authenticity to them. Throughout her life Parker has struggled with several depressions and suicide attempts, which may make these poems hard to read, but also more impressive for their wit and humor.

feet and book
A very old picture of two feet, a mug and a book

So my advice to you is to get yourself a nice copy of her poems (or the internet) and find a cup of tea or maybe a friend. Take an evening to delight in this woman’s snarky comments, sigh when the points she makes are but too true and giggle shamelessly at some of her more macabre remarks. Yes, they are dark. But dare tell me you hadn’t ever thought of any of them.

Do you have a favourite? Leave a comment below.

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