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Phyllis McGinley

Phyllis McGinley (March 21, 1905 – February 22, 1978) was a Pulitzer Prize (1961) winning American author of children’s books and poetry. Her poetry was in the style of light verse, specializing in humor, satiric tone and the positive aspects of suburban life.

McGinley enjoyed a wide readership in her lifetime, publishing her work in newspapers and women’s magazines such as the Ladies Home Journal, as well as in literary periodicals, including The New Yorker, The Saturday Review and The Atlantic. She also held nearly a dozen honorary degrees – “including one from the stronghold of strictly masculine pride, Dartmouth College” (from the dust jacket of Sixpence in Her Shoe (copy 1964)). Time Magazine featured McGinley on its cover on June 18, 1965.

An ardent Roman Catholic, she embraced domesticity in the wake of second-wave feminism, wrote light verse in the wake of the rise of modern avant-garde and confessional poetry, and filled the gap between the housewife and the feminist intellectual who rejected the domestic life. McGinley would spend most of her professional writing career fending off criticism that tended to diminish her image of a suburban housewife poet—an image that was meant to dismiss any depth in her writing. McGinley actually labeled herself a “housewife poet,” and unlike Anne Sexton who used the term to be ironic and self-deprecating, McGinley used it as an honorable and purposefully crafted identity.

Phyllis McGinley felt that the capability to foster familial relationships was what gave women their power and she fought to defend their rights to do so. Despite her admiration for the housewife and her duties, she fully recognized the monotony and drudgery that went along with this role. Most of all however, Phyllis McGinley felt that, no matter what path a woman chose to follow, the most important thing was for a woman to recognize and acknowledge her unique and honorable place in life. McGinley’s point, an eternally divisive one, was clear: a woman who enjoyed herself as a wife and mother should not submit to imposed ambitions nor feel constrained to demand change in the institution of the Church which she so cherished. “The Betty Friedan philosophy, that “committed” women will not need the regard of any man to feel alive, is rationally and effectively refuted by Miss McGinley.”

McGinley was elected to the National Academy of Arts and Letters in 1955. A recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1961, she received a number of honorary Doctor of Letters degrees (Boston College, Dartmouth College, Marquette University, St. John’s University, Smith College, Wheaton College, Wilson College) as well as the Catholic Book Club’s Campion Award (1967), the Catholic Institute of the Press Award (1960), and the Laetare Medal, conferred by the University of Notre Dame in 1964 She won the Pulitzer for her light verse collection, Times Three: Selected Verse from Three Decades with Seventy New Poems (1960) (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

I was drawn to this poem by Phyllis McGinley for the simple reason it presented me with a riddle. How on earth, I thought, could a person choose ONE moment, one memory out of their life to hang on to if it was all they could keep… I have found it to be a puzzle I can’t possibly solve. Could you?


The 5:32

She said, If tomorrow my world were torn in two,
Blacked out, dissolved, I think I would remember
(As if transfixed in unsurrendering amber)
This hour best of all the hours I knew:

When cars came backing into the shabby station,
Children scuffing the seats, and the women driving
With ribbons around their hair, and the trains arriving,
And the men getting off with tired but practiced motion.

Yes, I would remember my life like this, she said:
Autumn, the platform red with Virginia creeper,
And a man coming toward me, smiling, the evening paper
Under his arm, and his hat pushed back on his head;

And wood smoke lying like haze on the quiet town,
And dinner waiting, and the sun not yet gone down.


Picture Source: Wikipedia