Phyllis McGinley, 72, the first writer of light verse to be honored with the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, died Wednesday in New York City, where she made her home.
For many years, she had lived in Larchmont, N.Y., and Weston, Conn., an experience that led to poems and essays extolling the virtues of suburbia and homemaking.
But frequently the lines contained barbed darts and Miss McGinley established a reputation for her wit. Her aim, she once said, was to try "to narrow the gulf between light and serious verse," and she often used light verse to get across a serious idea.
A prolific writer, she produced numerous volumes of poems and essays and books for children. Her writings appeared in The New Yorker, Reader's Digest, Ladies Home Journal, McCall's America, Vogue and other magazines.
Miss McGinley received the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 for her book. "Times Three," which was subtitled "Selected Verse from Three Decades with Seventy New Poems." Most of the poetry had been published between 1934 and 1954.
Her last book of verse, "Saint Watching," was published in 1969.
Born in Ontario, Ore., Miss McGinley moved to Ogden, Utah, while in her teens. She studied at the University of Utah and the University of Southern California and then moved to New York in 1928, where she taught English in a New Rochelle school.
She wrote poetry in her free time, and in the early 1930s moved to Manhattan to try her hand as a full-time, free-lance writer. It was during that period that she turned, at the suggestion of an editor, from the "same sad songs all our lady poets do" to the lighter side.Her poems began to appear regularly in national magazines.
At times she was compared to Ogden Nash and Dorothy Parker, but the comparison was often refuted by critics who found it misleading. "Miss McGinley. . . has a personality of her own that transpires to the reader," said one.
Another praised her as a light versifier "of that superior order blessed with a faultless ear and a natural in ventiveness."
Of her skill, Miss McGinley herself once said in later years:
"I have one facet of genius, and only one. I have an infinite capacity for taking pains. My passion is for lucidity . . .
"I do think I have been a useful person. 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 into greater poetry."
In 1937, she married Charles (Bill) Hayden, a telephone company executive, and they moved a short time later to Larchmont. She then began to draw on her suburban life and family background for her writings.
In the 1960s, she published a collection of essays, "Sixpence in Her Shoe," noting it was for, by and about the American housewife, a role of which she was very proud.
While she continued to laud such a role, she was careful later to point out that she had been one of those fortunate enough to combine homemaking with a career.
In addition to the Pulitzer Prize, Miss McGinley received awards from the Poetry Society of America, the Catholic Writers Guild and the-Catholic Institute of the Press.
She also held a number of honorary degrees and was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters.
Her husband died in 1972.
She is survived by two daughters, Julia Elizabeth Hayden and Phyllis Louise Blake.