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Not Much Fun: The Lost Poems of Dorothy Parker Paperback – October 20, 2009
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A succinct, yet enlightening introduction and footnotes with quintessential Dorothy Parker anecdotes and quotes serve as brilliant foundation for this collection of "lost" poems. In fact, they are pieces that Parker discarded as not fit for publication, and Parker enthusiasts will notice that many foreshadow more-polished later versions. Though Parker once described her verse as "horribly outdated--anything once fashionable is dreadful now," it's clear that even her "unfit" works are far from dreadful. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
These poems are not "lost" in the way that we have come to expect from TV specials that celebrate never-seen episodes of, say, The Honeymooners. Rather, as Silverstein points out, these 122 poems appeared in popular magazines and newspapers of 1915-1938 yet have not previously been collected between hard covers. This does not bode well, nor does Silverstein, a journalist, attempt to build our hopes?his very lengthy introduction hits hard on Parker's alcoholism. But to engage the reader, he offers, via 113 footnotes, scores of "Dottie's" best witticisms. (The book's title is her response to a bartender's query: "What are you having?"). He succinctly observes that Parker's problem was a lack of artistic vision: "She needed ideas, not craft, and she failed." Indeed, this collection of light verse is built basically on two blunt ideas, which fortunately are not without their entertainment value: romance bad ("The most wonderful thing/ Is how well I get on without you"); money good ("Immortality ask I not/ All I want is a lot of jack").
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Journalist Stuart Y. Silverton has an expansive and informed introduction, which makes this book accessible to readers unfamiliar with Parker. Her verses target Hollywood, politicians like Silent Cal Coolidge and the absurd little foibles of life. There is literally a section of this book called "Hate Verses" featuring razor sharp jabs and barbs against a wide-range of social groups from women, men, the younger set and bohemians to wives and husbands. Each verse is subtitled with "A Hate Song" or "A Hate Hymn." That's so Dorothy.
Born lucky, you might say.
It should be no surprise that Dorothy Parker had a close relationship with alcohol (great quantities, taken in small sips, so she was always drinking but never completely smashed). Or that she had bad luck in love (two husbands committed suicide). Or that she'd fail at suicide on four separate occasions (once she slashed her wrists, but only after ordering dinner to be delivered, thus guaranteeing that she'd be found alive).
Dorothy Parker was one of the most celebrated writers of her time, but she's much better remembered for her big mouth. Day after day, she sat with America's greatest wits at the Round Table in the bar of New York's Algonquin Hotel and quietly devastated the all-male group with her one-liners. She was as much a symbol of the 1920s as the flapper, the flivver and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Or so the legend has it.
The fact is, Dorothy Parker had no trust fund. She was a working writer. And much of her work involved --- try imagining a career like this now --- poetry. She sold her first poem to Vanity Fair in 1915 for $12, a tidy sum back then. And she wrote about 330 more during her life; over thirty years, that's a poem every other week.
She downplayed her poetry. She said she wrote "verses" --- not poems. And they weren't, she noted, original: "I was following in the exquisite footsteps of Miss Edna St. Vincent Millay, unhappily in my own horrible sneakers."
Her poetry was collected at the peak of her fame. It has since languished. A decade ago, "Not Much Fun: The Lost Poems of Dorothy Parker" appeared. As with many things Parker, don't believe the title.
Is Parker a great poet? By no means. But she was one of the first American women to speak her mind --- her smart, contrarian, troubled mind --- openly on the page, and that gives her a certain historical import. And, setting aside all serious considerations, she's just plain fun. Fun and funny.
The book opens with a poem about...bridge. ("Didn't you hear what I bid?") It moves on to "Any Porch," a pastiche of overheard conversations. ("I really look thinner, you say?") She decries "the lady in back," who invariably ruins her night at the theater. She touches on every popular subject, even psychotherapy: "Where a Freud in need is a Freud indeed/we'll always be Jung together."
Parker's stock in trade is the last line that dramatically reverses the energy of the poem --- and slaps the reader in the face. Thus, a poem about Hollywood ends: "The streets are paved with Goldwyn." Well, how else?
And there are many poems that are just droll jokes:
Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Romania.
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
If Parker were only cleverness and verve, she'd be worth a paragraph in a chapter on the `20s. What makes her poems interesting is that her pain shows through the wit. In a great poet, this is no big deal; when the poet in question is paying her rent with her poems, it means something that she goes beyond froth. As, here:
When all the world was younger.
When petals lay as snow.
What recked I of the hunger
An empty heart can know?
For love was young and cheery,
And love was quick and free;
Tomorrow might be weary,
But when was that to me?
But now the world is older,
And now tomorrow's come.
The winds are rushing colder,
And all the birds are dumb.
And icy shackles fetter
The brooklet's sunny blue--
And I was never better;
But what is that to you?
"I don't care what is written about me so long as it isn't true," Parker once said. But in addition to poems that tell more than she may have intended, "Not Much Fun" includes an introduction, by Stuart Y. Silverstein, that's so amusingly annotated it's almost a biography. Together, they give a rollicking and touching picture of a woman you'd never want to be --- but would surely want to know.