It's Sunday afternoon, some time in the middle of summer. You and your friends are sitting around in the backyard, trying to figure out what to do with the rest of the day. The movies cost too much and it's too big of a hassle to fill up water balloons. You could terrorize your little sister, but then you'd have to find her first. Even thinking about what to do requires tons of effort at this point, so you tend to talk in short sentences – maybe even in grunts.
That, folks, is how we imagine this poem sounds. It's a bit lazy, like someone casually crossing off items on a shopping list. There's nothing too complicated in the language, and even the rhyme scheme has a sing-songy quality to it. You can almost imagine the speaker staring at the ceiling, eating leftover take-out, and absent-mindedly checking off all of the ways that a person could kill herself.
Here's the nifty thing about this title: "resume" is a word that can mean "begin again," "picking up where you left off," or "continuing." As a title for this poem (which is basically a list of all the ways that a person can end his/her life), "Resume" could be a summary of the piece itself: our speaker stops every now and then to think about the ways her life could end, and then she picks up the pieces and starts (or resumes) the business of living again.
Then again, toss a few accents on to the title, and you've got the word "résumé" – you know, that thing we're supposed to create in order to apply for jobs or scholarships or whatever we might be doing this summer. When you start to think about it, this poem could be a perverse sort of résumé – it's a list of all the "accomplishments" of the speaker.
Once again, there's a whopping dose of irony involved. For one thing, most folks wouldn't think of suicide as an accomplishment at all. For another, most people don't list failed tasks on their résumés. Any way we look at it, then, this is not the sort of résumé we'd ever hand to a future employer, nor is it the sort of résumé we ever hope to have. (Though, perhaps the very résumé that Parker had to struggle with herself.)
It's the play between these two possibilities – "resume" and "résumé" – that helps this poem maintain a balance between serious contemplation and dark comedy.
Ah, the modern world.
Sure, we don't get any concrete clues about the world our speaker inhabits – there aren't descriptions of parking lots or big box stores or that wonder of the modern world, McDonald's. Still, we're fairly confident that this poem is set in the 20th century. For one thing, acid and gas weren't all that available until the 20th century.
More importantly, though, the sort of easy contemplation of the value of suicide wouldn't have been something that people in the 1800s would have considered polite conversation. That leaves us with the 20th century – a time when individuals became more and more in control of their environments and, paradoxically, more and more isolated from one another. In other words, this poem showcases all the ways that humans can manipulate the things around them…even if only to end their own lives.
We like to think of our speaker as that chain-smokin', red-lipstick-wearin' friend of yours who tells the most outrageous stories without even cracking a smile. After all, who else could casually contemplate all of the ways of committing suicide before deciding that it just isn't worth the hassle?
Our speaker may be morbid, but she's got a sense of humor. She looks death square in the eye (over and over and over) and she finds the silly, odd, or just plain weird aspects of going through with a suicide plan.
Oh, and she's a law-abiding citizen. Don't even try to ask her to buy a gun.
As you've probably noticed, there aren't very many words in this poem – and they aren't presented in any complicated patterns. Those few words happen to be simple, small ones too. To top everything off, the speaker might not come out and say the word "suicide" but she makes her subject pretty darn clear.
You could even call Dorothy Parker's signature style "deadly wit," but that's too cute even for us. If Parker's writing is known for anything, though, it's for the biting comedy that she manages to craft out of not-so-happy subjects like loss, loneliness, or even death. "Resume" is a perfect example of Parker's style: it's so sad that it has to be a joke…right?
Starting with a one-word title, this poem keeps it simple (at least in terms of form, not subject matter). After the title, we jump into a couple of regular quatrains (a neat ABAB rhyme scheme) and an almost-perfect dimeter.
We know, we know, we're throwing some fancy poetry terms around here. Let's break it down, and then you can use words like "quatrain" to impress your friends (or, more importantly, your teachers).
Quatrains are sets of four lines that have an alternating rhyme scheme (so every other line rhymes). Since this poem has eight lines, it's got two quatrains. Let's take a look at the first quatrain:
Razors pain you; (A)
Rivers are damp; (B)
Acids stain you; (A)
And drugs cause cramp; (B)
The poem also has a pretty regular metrical pattern: each line (except for line 6) has four beats. That's called dimeter, because there are two "feet," or pairs of beats, in each line. It's a pretty simplistic metrical pattern – one that's commonly found in fifth-grade masterpieces and poems like "Roses are red/ violets are blue…" In other words, crafting a poem in dimeter makes the poem itself seem almost childlike.
We're guessing that Parker is deliberately simplistic with her meter. By writing in dimeter, she robs her subject matter of at least some of the seriousness that usually attends discussions of death and self-destruction. Suicide becomes a little more like a walk in the park.
We know that we're being a bit obvious here. But check it out: almost every single line in this poem offers an idea for a different way to die.
When it comes to wordplay, Parker's not messing around – there aren't any extraneous similes or metaphors or fancy-shmancy puns or plays with language. Nope. There's just a growing stack of images… and none of them are all that pleasant. Our speaker stacks up options: razors, rivers, acids, pills, guns, nooses, and gas.
When you're about to end it all, you're probably not thinking too much about the rest that life has to offer… including sex.