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You Might as Well Sue 3: Dorothy Parker Trial's Dramatic Conclusion (For Now)

Filed under: Looked Into   Tagged: , , , , ,

You’ve got to read Kevin Fitzpatrick’s wrap-up of the Dorothy Parker copyright trial, in which experts and cranks take the stand to argue the definitions of poems, “non-poems,” letters, free verse, unfree verse, triolets, doggerel, “little exercises,” wisecrackery, squibs, and pedestrian prose, and who did what illegal thing to whom. Not to mention a bizarre Lillian Hellman rumor that Kevin calls “the craziest tale I’ve ever come across in my nine years of running this Web site” (for the Dorothy Parker Society of New York). Sample dialogue:
Also for a second day, girls with glasses will be happy to know that “News Item” [link mine] was read in court again. This time by Dannay, who rushed through it to ask what Silverstein thought of it: “it could go either way,” Silverstein said, “as a poem or not.” Danay asked him if “News Item” – probably Parker’s most famous piece —- was a poem or not. Silverstein said “News Item” “is a wisecrack, not a poem.”
This was the beginning of one of my favorite parts of the trial, reading Dorothy Parker’s own words into the court record. The first instance of this was a slam-bang selection, taken from one of the brightest spots of her career, when she was Constant Reader for The New Yorker. Silverstein, in a monotone, was asked to read from the January 7, 1928 issue. Part of what Parker wrote:
“There is poetry, and there is not,” Parker wrote. “You can’t use the words good or bad, about it. You must know for yourself. Poetry is so intensely, so terribly, personal. A wise man, a very wise man – well, Hendrik Willem Van Loom, if you must have names – once said to me that if you have any doubt about a poem, then it isn’t a poem. Poetry is for you, for you alone. If, for you, it’s poetry, it will deluge your mind, drain your heart, crinkle your spine. It doesn’t matter whose it is.”
It’s an Alice in Wonderland postmodern circus! Quite the opposite of Not Much Fun.

Meanwhile, C. Max Magee finds himself distressed by a missing New Yorker (“Being the best magazine in the world, the New Yorker is guaranteed to provide me with at least one transcendent reading experience per month…”), then finds himself not missing it as much as he thought he would (“I sometimes fantasize about the day I’ll decide not to renew”). Don’t leave the clan, C.M.—we need you!

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