Right before Christmas a friend handed me a small, worn volume with a marble-patterned cover. He told me he picked it up at his library book sale, and figured I was the one person he knew who would want it. There was no title on the cover, but when I opened it, here is what I saw: My reaction was one usually reserved for a blue bag from Tiffany. I held my treasure, caressing its pages, and while my husband and our friends chatted over drinks, I happily got lost in Parker's poems. I discovered Dorothy Parker in my late teens, at exactly the age when her combination of acid and sentiment held its strongest appeal. The author of work The New York Times famously dismissed as "flapper verse," was also capable of real poetry: Like January weather,/The years will bite and smart,/And pull your bones together/To wrap your chattering heart./The pretty stuff you're made of/Will crack and crease and dry./The thing you are afraid of/Will look from every eye. (Try to read that one without a small shiver of recognition.) I know few writers who get to the heart of women's fears and disappointments so well as Parker, probably because she had so many of her own. Her life has become the stuff of legend, with so much emphasis on her alcoholism and broken love affairs that we forget her sharp, bright talent. And given her role at The New Yorker and her association with the Algonquin Round Table, we tend to forget something else as well--she's the original Jersey girl.
Born in Long Branch (also home to Norman Mailer and Robert Pinsky--is there something magical in our salt air?) Parker's sardonic observations and ability to hold her own with the guys--whether drinking, quipping, or writing them under the table--have a familiar Jersey edge. From her poem, "Observation": But I shall stay the way I am,/Because I do not give a damn. You go, girl.
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