Posted by: Admin | April 7, 2011

Dorothy Parker Saved My Life…

I was a gloomy bugger as a teen. Whilst there were various deep and meaningful reasons for my melancholy, I didn’t half make a meal of it. My first bout of depression enveloped me like a big, smoggy black blanket when I was 16. It was scary, isolating, terrifying, living inside my head. Being a bit of a drama queen, I thought – and read – a lot about suicide. Whilst most people would look for things to cheer themselves up, I hunted down any author who spoke of a similar experience and wallowed in it.

Bogged down by Jean-Paul Sartre, Andre Gidet, Albert Camus and their ilk, I pounced on Dorothy Parker with relief. Witty, cutting, female – her take on depression was like a fresh breeze, capable of lifting the smog at least for a little while. She also had no shame in rhyming, an attribute that  I found strangely soothing, and had no compunction about poking fun at herself. Here are three of my favourites from way back when:


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 Roumania.

Quite. “Coda” was a poem to which I returned regularly. It has just the right amount of “woe is me” tempered with a flippant humour that poked gentle fun at the author and reader:


There’s little in taking or giving,
There’s little in water or wine;
This living, this living, this living
Was never a project of mine.
Oh, hard is the struggle, and sparse is
The gain of the one at the top,
For art is a form of catharsis,
And love is a permanent flop,
And work is the province of cattle,
And rest’s for a clam in a shell,
So I’m thinking of throwing the battle-
Would you kindly direct me to hell?

Finally, here’s the piece for which Ms Parker is probably best known. I loved it’s wry, weary humour. It was my “go-to” poem for when life felt really, really hopeless. At the risk of sounding as though I’m still a melodramatic 16 year old depressive, I would say that this poem was a life-saver:


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.

Dorothy Parker




  1. I used to love Dorothy Parker when I was a teenager (14? 15?). I think it started when I went into a branch of W.H. Smith in Blackpool, looking for a biography of John Keats (the poet) and came across a biography of D.P. called “You might as well live” written by another John Keats. I was fascinated, though I don’t know what I’d think of her poetry if I went back and read it now.

    (I’ve just taken YMAWL off the shelf and had a look at it. On the back it has quotes from – of all people – Arthur Marshall (the camp old schoolmaster who used to appear on Call My Bluff) and Michael Foot – “The glimpses of reality behind the soft, sardonic poems and short stories are almost unbearable”. Not the sort of thing politicians say these days.)

  2. I believe I have that book somewhere! Were you a melodramatic teenage girl too, Backwatersman? DP was my first inkling that the pen can be mightier than the sword. I set out to be a writer because of her. Thank you for sharing 😉

  3. Not a girl, no. Not sure I was even particularly melodramatic.

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