Ode to Dorothy Parker

May 4, 2008 § Leave a comment

For those of you who have seen the film Girl, Interrupted, this may very well have been your first introduction to the wit of Dorothy Parker; it certainly was mine, unknowingly. At one point Angelina Jolie’s character, Lisa, recites Parker’s (probably) best-known poem Résumé.

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.

Parker was virtually unknown to me, and while I vaguely recall finding the diddy, Jolie recited as morbidly amusing, I didn’t pursue the effort of who wrote it. A few years later, for Christmas my older sister gave me The Best of Dorothy Parker, which probably contains half of Parker’s total output as a writer (reviews aside, for which she gained her initial fame). I still had no clue who this writer was, but I was quickly taken in with the sheer hilarity and wit of the pieces. I was surprised when I noticed Résumé was in the collection and made the connection, but believe me, there are plenty of better pieces in Parker’s portfolio. They’re all incredibly short, about 10,000 words max. consisting of stories and poems.

What struck me immediately was the ease with which they can be consumed. I can plow through quite a few in one sitting, with instant comprehension, quite unlike the famed poets who preceded her. The work is like the microwavable pizza of literature, fast and easy, doesn’t taste too bad either. I’ll avoid the obvious comparisons with other 20th century female writers because Parker is in a league of her own- the sort of consumable but still quality writing that strikes up a balance of authenticity, quality and common appeal, that other poets rarely achieve. This is not high-brow stuff by any means, but it’s the kind of writing that anyone who can understand human emotion and is capable of laughter will comprehend and enjoy. A quick search of Amazon yields plenty of collections to delve into.

On that note, I’ll end off with one of my favourite Parker witticisms, “You can lead a whore to culture, but you can’t make her think.


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