Ireland and the World of the 1950s
Helen Conrad O’Briain Phyllis McGinley and the Liberal Heart
Though a seeker since my birth, Here is all I’ve learned on earth, This is the gist of what I know: Give advice and buy a foe. Random truths are all I find Stuck like burrs about my mind, Salve a blister, Burn a letter Do not wash a cashmere sweater. Tell a tale but seldom twice. Give a stone before advice. — Phyllis McGinley, ‘A Garland of Precepts’1 There was a time when Phyllis McGinley (1905–1978) was a household name, a Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry in 1961, a popular writer of chil- dren’s stories like ‘The Plain Princess’ and ‘The Horse who lived Upstairs’, a regular contributor to magazines as disparate as Mademoiselle and The New Yorker, cordially disliked by Betty Friedan and Sylvia Plath. She was read; she was anthologized; but arguably neither the middle-American housewives who turned first to her poem or essay when they opened The Ladies Home Journal nor the feminists who loathed her, invested the time to understand what she was doing with her apparently light verse. She had made her way as a writer from the 1920s to the 1970s; she had negotiated a life which suited herself, if not necessarily others, between home and 1 Phyllis McGinley, Times Three: Selected Verse from Three Decades with Seventy New Poems, foreword by W. H. Auden (London: Secker & Warburg, 1961), 13; except where noted all references to her verse drawn from this volume. 132 Helen Conrad O’Briain career. Above all she was a most...
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