November 14, 2005

C.U. Alum Writes Biography of Limerick Poet Ogden Nash

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“Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.” Have you ever thought of this college-life motto as the work of a professional writer?

Ogden Nash: America’s Laureate of Light Verse, written by Douglas Parker LL.B. ’58, tells the story of the mastermind behind this and many other famous one-liners. Parker discussed the work of professional poet and former Managing Editor of The New Yorker Ogden Friday in Kroch Library.

He said that readers feel Ogden puts a very optimistic spin on mid-twentieth century America.

“Nash’s poetry is accessible, but sprinkled with historical and literary allusions,” Parker said.

According to Parker, Nash’s work is a reminder of the importance of reading poetry out loud because of its use of rhyme and meter.

Nash’s work has been characterized as having a popular appeal. Dana Gioia, author of the book’s foreward, said that Nash was the only poet that his mother, a working class Mexican woman, could quote.

“As a kid, I heard some of the poems. I remember ‘candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker’ and ‘if it’s a panther, don’t anther,'” said Jim Spear, a member of the audience.

Spear added that he likes the poetry’s human quality and accessibility.

Nash dropped out of Harvard due to financial difficulties and then taught French at a parochial school. He late made his way to New York, where he worked at the same [streetcar] advertising company as F. Scott Fitzgerald. Nash wrote a children’s book and secured a position in Doubleday Publishing’s editorial department. At Doubleday, reading the work of other poets inspired Nash to experiment with light verse.

“Spring Comes to Murray Hill” was Nash’s first poem in The New Yorker.

“He fast became their favorite contributor,” Parker said.

Nash was made managing editor of The New Yorker but kept the position for only 90 days.

According to Parker, Nash wrote serious poems every once in a while, and, in the 1930s, his poems reflected the depression and the disturbing developments in Europe. Nash’s 1935 poem for a Baltimore charity entitled “A Carol for Children” was the centerpiece for a 1978 editorial in The New York Times.

Nash tried his hand at Hollywood, radio and Broadway. He found Hollywood “good for the bank account, but not good for the psyche or professional development,” Parker said.

In the 1960s, Vietnam upset the poet, and he tried to write light verse, but The New Yorker did not accept his work. Nash turned to Playboy, a publication more willing to print his limericks.

According to Parker, Nash did not think much of the poetry The New Yorker was publishing at the time. He wrote “Notes for the Chart in 306” as a spoof of the poetry he thought The New Yorker preferred. The piece not only ended up being published in the magazine but was also placed in The New Yorker anthology.

According to Parker, writing the book was fun since the research on Nash required that he travel to the University of Texas, Columbia University and Dartmouth College.

Parker was in frequent contact with Nash’s daughters while writing the book. They wanted to see a sample chapter before interviewing with Parker or contributing to his endeavor but did not constrain or try to guide what Parker wrote in the authorized biography.

Archived article by Jessica Liebman
Sun Staff Writer