Wednesday 21 August 2019

Poetry - Ulick O'Connor - America's Oscar Wilde

Dorothy Parker
Dorothy Parker

Ulick O'Connor

American poet Dorothy Parker, the 50th anniversary of whose death occurs this year, was the female equivalent of Oscar Wilde. She was a founding member of the American Round Table, which used to meet in the famous Algonquin Hotel in New York.

As the queen of repartee she held her own amongst a group of writers which included Groucho Marx, legendary editor of the New Yorker Harold Ross and Hollywood humorist Robert Benchley.

Her remarks such as "You can't teach an old dogma new tricks", "Brevity is the soul of lingerie", and "I don't care what is written about me as long as it isn't true" have passed into New York literary legend.

Parker made her name as a writer in The New Yorker where she won the Pulitzer Prize for her short stories. Her poems had an astonishing vogue and one of her earliest collections, Sunset Gun, was, in a little more than decade, republished 20 times.

She was a tiny little lady who liked to walk down Park Avenue every day with her pet dachshund, Robinson. She used to say: "The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue."

At a time when it could destroy your career in the US, she remained a committed socialist and, along with Arthur Miller, pleaded the First Amendment in the McCarthy trials of the 1950s by refusing to name left-wing members in the film profession. Part of her success was that she always retained her femininity. "Flowers and a good cry are among my favourite diversions," she used to say.

Here is one of the many thousands of poems she wrote to give you an idea of the lyric gift of this wonderful woman.


Now this must be the sweetest place

From here to Heaven's end;

The field is white with flowering lace,

The birches leap and bend,

The hills, beneath the roving sun,

From green to purple pass,

And little, trifling breezes run

Their fingers through the grass.

So good it is, so gay it is,

So calm it is, and pure,

A one whose eyes may look on this

Must be the happier, sure.

But me - I see it flat and gray

And blurred with misery,

Because a lad a mile away

Has little need of me.

Dorothy Parker 1893-1967

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