Phyllis McGinley was a Pulitzer Prize winning author of children’s books and light verse. She was wildly popular during the forties, fifties and sixties, for her sardonic wit, light touch, and accessibility. Her material has been described as having a “suburban sensibility,” due to its mainstream, often female-centric subject matter. Her method fascinates me. For every humorous poem she published, she is said to have written a “serious” version of it first as a foundation.
Here are a couple of my favorites that happen to speak to my own pet peeves:
To a Talkative Hairdresser
Too garrulous minion, stop. Be dumb.
Attend my curls, however tarnished,
In silence, Sir, I did not come
For your opinion, plain or varnished.
I do not wish to hear your views.
The time is ripe for no discussion
Of hemlines current in the news,
Politics, weather, or the Russian.
Spare me the story (while you soap)
Of how your molars lately acted.
This little hour – or so I hope –
Is mine for languor undistracted.
Calm is this air-conditioned grot.
I drowse, and there might linger in me
An unaccustomed peace, but not
If you must babble as you pin me,
If you must feel impelled to break
My slumber with your conversation
Concerning modes, the price of steak,
Or where you went on your vacation.
Hush! Fetch me Voque and get me to
the dryer quickly as you can, sir,
Which drones no windier than you
Or duller, nor expects an answer.
— Phyllis McGinley (1940s)
The Angry Man
The other day I chanced to meet
An angry man upon the street —
A man of wrath, a man of war,
A man who truculently bore
Over his shoulder, like a lance,
A banner labeled “Tolerance.”
And when I asked him why he strode
Thus scowling down the human road,
Scowling, he answered, “I am he
Who champions total liberty —
Intolerance being, ma’am, a state
No tolerant man can tolerate.
“When I meet rogues,” he cried, “who choose
To cherish oppositional views,
Lady, like this, and in this manner,
I lay about me with my banner
Till they cry mercy, ma’am.” His blows
Rained proudly on prospective foes.
Fearful, I turned and left him there
Still muttering, as he thrashed the air,
“Let the Intolerant beware!”
— Phyllis McGinley (1950s)