Day 6 of National Poetry Month: The Velvet Hand by Phyllis McGinley

A while back I wrote the ode below about pint-sized con artists persuaders and the folly of attempting to remain resolute against their well-intoned whines:

The Art of Persuasion

You can flatter me with niceties
Until my ears turn numb;
You can threaten me with misery
And yet I won’t succumb.

You can tie me up and tickle me
From end to giggling end;
Deprive me of all chocolate,
And still I will not bend.

For if you really want something,
And I answer firmly, “No.”
Well then, my dear, you heard it here:
A whine’s the way to go.

Now, whimpering won’t do it,
Nor a mere plaintive cry,
You must surround me with a sound
That reaches to the sky.

The higher-pitched, the better;
Yes, make it long and LOUD—
And I must say, you’ll get your way
If you can draw a crowd.

(Oh, I know I shouldn’t give in,
The experts make that clear;
But could they ignore this child of four
Whose pleas assault my ear?)

Indeed, my sweet, Lord only knows
What riches you’ll attain,
Depending on how lengthy
Of a yell you can sustain.

I won’t resist if you’ll desist
From that sound that you are making:
Candy? Cookies? DVDs?
They’re all yours for the taking.

–Carlotta Eike Stankiewicz


Just last week, I learned that I wasn’t the first parent to commit such thoughts on that subject to rhyme. I found the poem below in a collection of comic verse that I snagged for a song at my neighborhood Goodwill:

The Velvet Hand

I call that parent rash and wild
Who’d reason with a six-year child,
Believing little twigs are bent
By calm, considered argument.

In bandying words with progeny,
There’s no percentage I can see,
And people who, imprudent, do so,
Will wonder how their troubles grew so.

Now underneath this tranquil roof
Where sounder theories have their proof,
Our life is sweet, our infants happy.
In quietude dwell Mammy and Pappy.

We’ve sworn a stern, parental vow
That argument we won’t allow.
Brooking no juvenile excess here,
We say a simply No or Yes, here,

And then, when childish wails begin
We don’t debate.
We just give in.

–Phyllis McGinley


I was intrigued to find that another mother had chosen domestic travails as her subject matter – albeit 60 years ahead of me. Further research revealed that Ms. McGinley, like me, found her life as a suburban mother a fertile source of material for her poems. But the uncanny similarity doesn’t end there, for it turns out that My New Favorite Poet and I have even more in common. To wit:

  • She was an advertising copywriter (I’m an advertising copywriter!)
  • She was a poet from the age of six (I’ve been a poet since age six!)
  • She was the mother of two daughters (I have two daughters!)
  • She was a children’s book author (I’m an aspiring children’s book author!)
  • She was featured on the cover of Time magazine (………………..!)

Okay, no cover of Time for me….yet. Nor have I won the Pulitzer Prize, which Ms. McGinley did in 1961, for her poetry anthology Times Three: Selected Versed from Three Decades. Winning the Pulitzer is incredible in its own right, but what makes her achievement even more striking is that she won it for a collection of light verse.

How wonderful for this particular art form, often dismissed like some red-headed stepchild of the upstanding Poetry family, to be recognized in such a manner. I also appreciate Ms. McGinley’s take on what an appreciation of light verse might inspire. In her interview from the Time magazine pictured above, Ms. McGinley noted, “At a time when poetry has become the property of the universities and not the common people, I have a vast number of people who have become my readers. I have kept the door open and perhaps led them to greater poetry.”



2 thoughts on “Day 6 of National Poetry Month: The Velvet Hand by Phyllis McGinley

  1. Pingback: Meet the Poets: Phyllis McGinley – 1961 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry « Jimmie A. Kepler's Blog

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