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Gee, it would be really super-awesome to write for famous magazines like Vanity Fair, Vogue, and The New Yorker. Seriously, it would rule to write for all three of them, and then, on top of that, be asked to work on a movie and then get nominated for an Oscar. If she were still alive, you could ask Dorothy Parker about how awesome doing all that would be because… well, she did it. No joke—she really did do all this stuff.
Dorothy Parker definitely navigated among the elites, that's for sure. In the 1920s, she was a member of the Algonquin Round Table, which was a group of writers, critics, and humorists that met at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City. Some of the group's other members included Alexander Woollcott, Robert E. Sherwood, and of all people Harpo Marx. (You can read all about the Algonquin Round Table here.) When she moved to Hollywood in the 1930s, Parker became an important figure in the film world, working on several movies and co-founding the Screen Writer's Guild.
Sounds like a pretty interesting life, if you ask us. Parker, however, wasn't all that thrilled. She struggled with depression and alcoholism in the 1920s, and even tried to commit suicide three different times. Many of Parker's struggles were reflected in her first book of poetry, Enough Rope (1926). While poems like "Resume" discuss suicide, others, such as "Men," "Love Song," and this one—"One Perfect Rose"—express Parker's conflicted relationships with men.
"One Perfect Rose" is at once both a charming and depressing poem. The speaker complains that it is always just her luck to get one perfect rose. Flowers are nice, but they seem sort of antique in a world that now has limousines. The fact that the speaker only ever gets flowers is Parker's way of suggesting that, even though the world has progressed and modernized, women are still treated in an older, outdated way.
Come to think of it, this poem seems to express a lot of Parker's feelings about her life more generally. In the same way that Hollywood, literary celebrity, and writing for big time magazines still left Parker unfulfilled, so too does the rose, despite its beauty, just not cut it.
It's the morning of your birthday, which is pretty much the best morning of the year (except for Christmas morning). Your parents have already left for work, but they've left you a big, giant present. You notice that the wrapping is near perfect, which tells you your mom wrapped it and not your dad. Anyway, without bothering to read the card that's attached, you tear open the present, open the box and find… a cashmere sweater. Sigh. Again? This is the fourth year in a row that your parents have given you a sweater. Soft, expensive cashmere sweaters are terrific and all, but enough is enough. You will definitely wear the sweater, but it would just be nice to get something different—you know, like an XBOX. They cost about the same after all. This is so disappointing.
That disappointment, it turns out, is what Dorothy Parker's "One Perfect Rose" is all about. The speaker is frustrated about the clichés of love, specifically about how people in love always send flowers (just like how your parents ALWAYS give you a sweater). There's nothing wrong with flowers (or sweaters, or anything else that might be well-intentioned, but somehow ordinary). After all, they're pretty, heartfelt, scented with wet dew, and all that, but, everybody sends flowers!
Have you ever noticed, for example, how many people receive perfect red roses on Valentine's Day? And, like the flowers, love has become as clichéd as anything else. That is exactly the point of "One Perfect Rose." It's about a speaker who is tired of everything always being the same, and wanting something as important and special as love to be expressed in new ways. Shouldn't people in love go out of their way to express themselves with a little more creativity than, ahem, flowers?
Yes, say we. And so says this poem. Folks should definitely go a little further. Love is special, love is powerful, love is awesome! People in love shouldn't do what everybody else has done because, well, what's the point of that? It's generic. It's boring! Also, it's not a very thoughtful thing to do, right? Think of it like this: If you want to prove to somebody that they're the most important person in the world, doing some lame thing that everybody else always does and that doesn't require any real thought isn't the way to go. And, if you ever want to make that argument to anyone in your life in future, this poem can help you do that!
The Dorothy Parker Society
Hey look, a whole society devoted just to Dorothy Parker!
Now That's a Life!
Here's a decent, short biography of Dorothy Parker.
A Vicious Circle
This website about the history of the Parker and her group, the Algonquin Round Table.
Creepy, but Cool
Here's some weird animation of Parker reading "One Perfect Rose."
A choir of four sings "One Perfect Rose."
She reads "One Perfect Rose" to music.
This page lists a slew of Parker's reading clips.
Here's a lovely picture of her.
Just My Luck!
A picture of Parker looking frustrated, as if she's just received a rose she doesn't want.
Dorothy @ Work
Here's Parker chewing thoughtfully as she writes.
This interview took place over fifty years ago!
Here it is: Parker's first book of poetry, at Amazon.com.
A Star is Born (1937)
Parker helped write this movie, and was nominated for an Oscar.
Smash Up: the Story of a Woman (1947)
Parker was also nominated for an Oscar for her work on this film.
Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994)
Here's a movie about Parker and the Algonquin Round Table.