January 26, 2002
MarkBernstein.org
 
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The Wild Party

Nadine:
Mae's kid sister.
Fourteen:
No man had kissed her.
Excitement made her wild-eyed:
She was so thrilled to be there
She could have died!
She was quite pretty
And she looked older.
She only knew
What had been told her.

I'd never heard of Joseph Moncure March's The Wild Party until I stumbled across an excerpt in Singapore while checking a reference. It's a book-length poem, published in 1928, that captures Jazz-age noir weirdly, wonderfully. Spiegelman illustrated it in '94. It's quite a ride.

And she liked her lovers violent, and vicious:
Queenie was sexually ambitious.
So:
Now you know.
A fascinating woman, as they go.

You shouldn't miss this. There's a lot not to like: casual racism, anti-semitism, perhaps homophobia. No worse, I think, than Dorothy Sayers, and with the same excuse. The poem is too long. Occasionally it gets out of control, as when Mae turns into a limerick.

But the book is filled with wonderfully curdled moments.