I purchased a book of poems from the second-hand book shop called The Love Letters of Phyllis McGinley
, by Phyllis McGinley, 1954. A cute little cloth-bound, hard-cover number in faded British racing-car green, with gold lettering. It smells like an old lady's house. But in a good way.
After a flick-through in the shop, Phyllis seemed domestic yet intellectual, quaintly old fashioned and romantic, yet genuinely insightful about humans - especially young female ones. Within two poems she made me both smile and sigh, yet I had never heard her name before.
While waiting in line I secretly hoped that she was some great, little known poet that I could casually quote and drop into conversation, and feel warm and secure inside knowing that I was spreading the word, and that I am really rather clever and ahead of the pack.
I could even start a little nerdy internet poetry fan cult. *squuuueeeeee!*
First step: Discover and memorise details about esoteric poetess of choice.
Bless you Google.
Phyllis McGinley 1905 - 1978
Born in Oregon.
Before she was a writer she was a teacher, a copywriter, and the poetry editor for Town and Country. She married at 22 and moved to New York. The suburban landscape and culture of her new home provided the subject matter for much of her poetry.
She was elected to the National Academy of Arts and Letters in 1955, and won the Pulitzer for her light verse collection, Times Three: Selected Verse from Three Decades with Seventy New Poems (1960).
In addition to poetry, McGinley wrote essays and children's books, as well as the lyrics for the 1948 musical revue, Small Wonder.
She even got her face on a stamp.
So far so good. Unfortunately she didn't drown herself or anything terribly romantic like that, but I do like the sound of a 1948 musical revue. This has promise for my nerdy internet fan cult. The fact that she has won a Pulitzer makes me feel good. I am not the only one to have sighed. Important people have sighed also.
To gain more insight into my potential new hero, I Google her quotable quotes. This, of course, is how you can safely sum up and judge a famous person's entire personality and published output within ten minutes. Fuck the poetry that makes you sigh when you're feeling lonely and hormonal, I want to know how my new hero thinks
"Praise is warming and desirable. But it is an earned thing. It has to be deserved, like a hug from a child."
This is true. I like praise. And imagery involving children. This is going well.
"Sticks and stones are hard on bones
Aimed with angry art,
Words can sting like anything
But silence breaks the heart."
Hmmm. Cute and pithy, yes, but it also smacks of "semi-professional lady poet". I can see it printed on a desk calender in the office of Mrs Myra Higginbottom-Jones, President of the CWA, Geelong Chapter.
This worries me.
"A hobby a day keeps the doldrums away."
Ditto. Myra is loving this shit.
"A lady is smarter than a gentleman, maybe, she can sew a fine seam, she can have a baby, she can use her intuition instead of her brain, but she can't fold a paper in a crowded train."
Oh. Dear. This is the first poet I have randomly connected with in years and I bet you a million dollars that J-Dubya bought Janette a first edition for her 60th.
"Frigidity is largely nonsense. It is this generation's catchword, one only vaguely understood and constantly misused. Frigid women are few. There is a host of diffident and slow-ripening ones."
Myra and Janette are nodding and clutching at their hearts. PHYLLIS McGINLEY UNDERSTANDS US.
"Getting along with men isn't what's truly important. The vital knowledge is how to get along with a man, one man."
*flicking madly through book, trying to work out why I loved it instantly*
Could I have more in common with Janette than just our love for flat shoes and fantasy fiction?
"I do not know who first invented the myth of sexual equality. But it is a myth willfully fostered and nourished by certain semi-scientists and other fiction writers. And it has done more, I suspect, to unsettle marital happiness than any other false doctrine of this myth-ridden age."
Phyllis and my elderly Irish relatives speaketh the truth. My wild notions of sexual equality are why I am still on the shelf. Curse my mother for taking me to "Reclaim the Night" marches when I was a wee, impressionable lass.
"Marriage was all a woman's idea and for man's acceptance of the pretty yoke, it becomes us to be grateful."
God Bless Men. They really are very patient with us, aren't they? Pass the sugar, please Myra, be a Dear.
And last but not least...
"In Australia, not reading poetry is the national pastime."
I say, that's not very nice, Phyllis. Rather uncalled for, actually. I bought YOUR book, and I read it. You really had me on side for a while, but I'm packing up my needle work and I'm going home. Janette? Myra? Are you coming?
What this goes to show you is that you can't trust a woman. A husband is the only one that can truly be relied upon in life. Note to self:
Spend less time dreamily flicking through old books of poetry at second-hand book stores, more time trying to find a man to accept the "pretty yoke" with me.
Sure, Phyllis, your poetry can make me smile and sigh, but for that little anti-Australia barb at the end there you can forget all about the nerdy internet cult. Bitch.