[ # 78 of My Favourite Short Poems ]
Dorothy Parker (1893 – 1967) was an American poet, writer, critic, and satirist, best known for her wit, wisecracks and eye for 20th-century urban foibles.
From a conflicted and unhappy childhood, Parker rose to acclaim, both for her literary output in publications such as The New Yorker and as a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table. Following the breakup of the circle, Parker travelled to Hollywood to pursue screen-writing. Her successes there, including two Academy Award nominations, were curtailed when her involvement in left-wing politics led to a place on the Hollywood blacklist.
Dismissive of her own talents, she deplored her reputation as a “wise-cracker.” Nevertheless, both her literary output and reputation for sharp wit have endured.
Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you; And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.
[ From: ‘The Funny Side – 101 Humorous Poems’
– edited and with an introduction by Wendy Cope ]
There is intense irony as well as a bitingly black humour in this short poem, which essentially lists some of the different ways of putting an end to an unhappy life. The title, as well as the sudden, perhaps unexpected, last line of the poem, however, gives the poem an up-beat conclusion. It is a very clever ending, being both blasé and yet pointed at the same time. The suggestion is that an unsatisfactory past, which reads like a death-wish CV, does not have to end with acceptance of the idea of suicide. It is possible to move forward into a more positive future when the disadvantages of taking one’s own life are counteracted by more positive thoughts.