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Dorothy Parker

“I can’t write five words but that I can change seven.”

Dorothy Parker was witty, intelligent, humorous and by far one of the most successful and influential female writers of her era. Born on August , 18 in West End, N.J. to a Scottish mother and a Jewish father, she was the youngest of two in a dysfunctional family. She attended private schools in N.J. and N.Y.C. At the age of four, after the death of her mother and the subsequent remarriage of her father, her life took a turn for the worst. As Dorothy emerged into adulthood, her brother died aboard the titanic and her father died a year later. In 111, she moved to New York City into a boarding house and worked as a piano player at a dance school. At the age of twenty-one she began submitting her writing to various magazines and papers. She finally had her first poem entitled “Any Porch” published in Vanity Fair and shortly afterward received a job at Vogue Magazine. Two years later, she transferred to Vanity Fair where she became the only female drama critic in New York. In 117, she married Edwin Parker, a stockbroker, which changed her from Dorothy Rothschild to Dorothy Parker. In 11, she joined the Algonquin Round Table, making her the only female member at the time. Vanity Fair fired her in 11 due to increasingly sarcastic and unpopular play reviews. She soon found another job at a magazine named Ainslee’s where her wittiness and sarcasm was encouraged.

In 1, she wrote her first short story entitled Such a Pretty Little Picture” and two years later divorced and moved into the Algonquin Hotel. In 15, she began writing plays and poems for The New Yorker and had her first book of poems entitled “Enough Rope” published. The police arrested her in Boston in 17, for protesting against the death of Sacco and Vanzetti. She walked herself to jail refusing to ride with the police in the paddy wagon. That year she became the official book critic of The New Yorker and in 1, she won the O. Henry Award for best short story entitled “the Big Blonde”. During that same year, she began screenwriting, moved to Hollywood, and secured a contract with MGM. She continued to write screenplays long afterward. In 15, she signed a contract with Paramount Pictures with her newfound husband, Alan Campbell whom she met in Europe. He was also of Scottish-Jewish descent. In 16, she contributed to the founding of the Anti-Nazi League and in 17, won an academy award with her husband Alan for best screenplay entitled “A Star Is Born”.

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Dorothy continued to write a series of poems, prose, short stories, and screenplays all through the 140’s. This was her era of fame and she had many poems published in several magazines. A magazine called Viking released an anthology of her short stories and poems. From 157-16 she worked for Esquire Magazine as a book reviewer and in 15, she was formerly introduced into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She also taught English periodically at the California State College as a “Visiting Professor of English”. Her final published piece in esquire magazine was in November 164. On June 7th 167, she was pronounced dead of a heart attack in her room at Hotel Varney NYC.

The reason that Dorothy Parker as a favorite poet of mine is because she strikes me as humorously cynical, witty, and intelligent. Her poetry is timeless and simple. It is as though it could relate to the problems and situations of today’s society even though she wrote most of her famous poems in the 140’s. Dorothy Parker’s unconventional content was also somewhat controversial in her era. Her poems consist mainly of scorned lovers, death or suicide, society’s negative views on her behavior, cynical love, and the idiocracy of men’s behavior. She uses satirical and dry humor to express her values and feelings on events that have occurred in her life.

Her style and use of language is quite interesting as well. All of her poems use rhyme and meter in some form. She plays with rhyme as though it were part of everyday speech lightly tossing words across the pages of her work. It is as though writing poetry comes as easy and instinctual to her as breathing. Let us take for example her poem entitled “Prayer for a Prayer”. It is a closed-form poem with an unusual rhyming scheme. She wrote this poem so that lines af, be, cd, gl, hk, and ij, rhyme

“Dearest one, when I am dead

Never seek to follow me.

Never mount the quiet hill

Where the copper leaves are still,

As my heart is, on the tree

Standing at my narrow bed…..”

A sonnet is a poem consisting of fourteen lines, an octet (eight lines) and a sestet (six lines). The last two lines end in a rhyming couplet. Another variation of a sonnet is the Italian sonnets in which the first eight lines follow the rhyming scheme of abba, abba, and the last six lines end in any rhyming variation other than a rhyming couplet. Her poems entitled “I know I Have Been Happiest”, and “Condolence” are examples of Italian Sonnets. She also wrote a near sonnet entitled “The Flapper”, which contains two stanzas of eight rhyming quatrains and the last two lines end in a rhyming couplet. More examples of rhyming quatrains would be this excerpt from her poem entitled “The False Friends”

“They laid their hands upon my head,

They stroked my cheek and brow;

And time could heal a hurt, they said,

And time could dim a vow….”

Rhyming quatrains are lines in a poem that follow the rhyming format of abab, cdcd, etc. Some examples of these are, found in her poems such as “The Whistling Girl” and “Prayer for a Prayer”. She also plays with rhyming couplets such as in a few poems entitled “Men”, “Social Note”, and “On Being a Woman”. Rhyming couplets are poems written so that every second line rhymes with the first.

Epigrams are another style of poem she uses. Epigrams are short poems ending with a witty and intelligent thought that ties in with the rest of the poem. Often these poems are about certain people or events. Dorothy has written epigrams on many famous people such as Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, D. G. Rossetti, George Sand, Thomas Carlyle and Alexandre Dumas and His Son. An example of an epigram would be the one she wrote for Walter Savage Landor

“Upon the work of Walter Landor

I am unfit to write with candor.

If you can read it, well and good;

But as for me, I never could.”

It is simple, witty and summarizes what she truly thinks of the writer’s work

Rhyme and meter go hand-in-hand in most of her work. She tends to follow a certain rhythm in most of her work that make the reader feel that the poem is light and happy even if the context is of sadness and hate. A good example of this is her poem “Social Note”

“Lady, lady, should you meet

One whose ways are all discreet,

One who murmurs that his wife

Is the lodestar of his life,

One who keeps assuring you

That he never was untrue,

Never loved another one . . .

Lady, lady, better run!”

The poem reads like a nursery rhyme with the words lightly skipping across the page in a singsong way; however, the meaning of this poem is anything but light-hearted. Another form of rhythm is scansion in which one scans the lines of a poem to find where the poet wants stresses on syllables. Take for instance her poem entitled “One Perfect Rose”, a poem that is widely used in secondary school English curriculum across North America. She wrote this poem in perfect Iambic Pentameter

“A single | flowr | he sent | me, since | we met.

All ten|derly | his mess|enger | he chose;

Deep-hear|ted, pure, | with scen|ted dew | still wet-

One per|fect rose…..”

Iambic pentameter is a line of five iambs or feet that appear in all forms of blank verse, heroic couplets and sonnets. A meter occurs when stresses reoccur at fixed intervals within the lines of a poem, such as the one above. The meter of this poem (or any poem) establishes itself within the first few lines, and even though there may be some variation, (like line ‘one perfect rose’) it is still a pentameter as the basic rhythm of the poem does not change. Iambic pentameter is considered a rising meter. Iambic consists of one stressed syllable followed by one unstressed syllable. Another example of a rising meter is Anapestic. An example of this anapestic would be her poem entitled “Coda”

“Theres little in taking or giving,

Theres little in water or wine;

This living, this living, this living

Was never a project of mine….”

It is very much like Iambic; however, it uses two unstressed syllables followed by one stressed syllable. She also uses terminal refrains in “One Perfect Rose”. The last sentence ‘one perfect rose’ repeats itself in all three stanzas to add emphasis on the rose in the poem. Refrains are also something that Dorothy Parker plays with in such poems as “Chant for Dark Hours” where the sentence ‘some men, some men’ is repeated in the beginning of all six stanzas, to make the reader feel as though she is lecturing on the unavailing behavior of men. This is an example of introductory refrains. Her poem “Now at Liberty” is as good example of terminal refrains as she uses the phrase ‘little white love’ at the beginning of every stanza, altering the words at the ending of each sentence.

The two falling meters that incorporate some of her work are Trochaic and Dactylic. Trochaic is a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable. An example of this would be in her poem “Salome’s Dancing Lesson”

“She that begs a little boon

(Heel and toe! Heel and toe!)

Little gets- and nothing, soon.

(No, no, no! No, no, no!)

She that calls for costly things

Priceless finds her offerings-

Whats impossible to kings?

(Heel and toe! Heel and toe!)…”

Another interesting aspect of this poem is the style of writing. When read aloud it sounds like a waltz, hence the theme ‘dancing lesson’. One can almost hear it whispering one and two and one and two. Dactylic is a form of meter in which the lines contain one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables like in this line from her poem

“The Choice”

“Houses of marble, and billowing farms,…”

Although this poem varies in some of the lines, the basic rhythm scheme is the same throughout.

She also uses calculated repetition in some of her work. A good example of this would be in her poem “Bric-a-Brac”

“Little things that no one needs-

Little things to joke about-

Little landscapes, done in beads.

Little morals, woven out,

Little wreaths of gilded grass,

Little brigs of whittled oak

Bottled painfully in glass;

These are made by lonely folk…..”

In this poem, she uses the word ‘little’ in repetition to emphasize the little things miserable people put emphasis on to draw attention away from their miserable lives. They involve themselves in other people’s business and pass judgments based on their own insecurities. She also uses calculated repetition in her poem titled “The Whistling Girl” to emphasize how unimportant other peoples opinions are, as long as you are happy with the way you are living your life.

It is my belief that the reason Dorothy Parker did not get as much recognition as she should have is not because her style and form were unacceptable but because of the theme and content of her poetry. She seems to have a very low opinion of men, and since it is predominantly men who publish books on collective poems, (ex. Kennedy and Gioia) she will never get recognition because men will not publish poems (or poets) that insult other men. If a woman wrote a book of collective poetry from the 1th century, I am positive that there would be more work by Dorothy Parker as her work is mostly female-related. Although controversial and not always acceptable, Dorothy Parker’s unique and unconventional content will continue to be enjoyed by many, for generations to come.

Works Cited

“Links to Literature.” http//www.linkstoliterature.com/parker.html Website. N.P.

“Homepage for Dorothy Parker’s Poetry.” http//www.suck-my-big.org/blah/ Website.

Catherine Skidmore. N.P.

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