“THE WILD PARTY,” though it fills a e-book, isn’t truly very lengthy. It takes solely about an hour to learn aloud, one thing that’s price doing, even when you’re alone and the empty corners of the room are your solely viewers. It seems like a spoken phrase efficiency, a distant ancestor of slam poetry and of the Beats (it’s becoming that William S. Burroughs later credited it as the work that made him need to develop into a author — it shares his ice-pick sensibility). Say the phrases aloud, they usually rapidly begin to really feel like they’re being hissed quietly into an open mic at the finish of an extended night time for anybody sober sufficient to nonetheless be listening; it’s a horror story designed to ship even the most decided celebrants into the darkness with a faint shudder. Letting your self hear the poem additionally offers you a way of March’s erratic, idiosyncratic syncopation — a cascade of three or 4 fast rhymes, just a little ABAB after which just a little AABB, a run of clean verse after which an surprising relaxation or brief phrase or collection of abrupt two-word bullet factors. It’s like driving aboard a hell-bound railroad practice, however one which makes jolting native stops about each 20 seconds. You can’t settle in.
If March doesn’t consolation you, he does at the very least seduce you. From the begin, “The Wild Party” is humorous — whether or not he’s commenting on Queenie’s relaxed requirements for male companionship:
They is likely to be blackguards;
They is likely to be curs;
They is likely to be actors; sports activities; chauffeurs —
She by no means inquired
Of the males she desired
About their social standing, or wealth:
She was solely involved about their well being.
Or about one among the few males she will’t have:
His hips have been jaunty,
And his gestures too dextrous.
A versatile lad!
He was ambisextrous.
Sometimes the poem will disarm you with a self-conscious joke:
My God! You don’t perceive.
They have been far too busy dwelling first-hand
Or with an overt remark by itself method:
Foreboding sudden violence.
But March by no means lets the smile linger in your lips for too lengthy earlier than he wipes it away. From his first, unnerving portrait of Queenie in the poem’s opening strains (“Grey eyes. / Lips like coals aglow. / Her face was a tinted mask of snow”), he writes not with ink however with embalming fluid. There are a few passing racist and anti-Semitic strains that mark, and mar, “The Wild Party” as a piece of its time. But the poem was undeniably a leap ahead in its depiction of a a lot wider vary of sexuality than most American literature of the Nineteen Twenties was capable of accommodate. Burrs and Queenie’s company embody a former prostitute, a bisexual male dancer, a lesbian and two apparently homosexual brothers who carry out as a musical duo. One method through which the poem feels very 2021 is that March is clearly, to steal a phrase from practically a century after he wrote, dwelling for the drama; he grasps that there’s loads to be mined from throwing all of those oversize, unstable varieties right into a room and seeing simply how a lot time it takes till the middle can not maintain. But this isn’t a celebratory forerunner of queerness in all its selection. It can be a mistake to sentimentalize the Roaring Twenties as a time when all lessons, ages and races may converge and mingle if the get together was proper; in that regard, it was extra a second when white cultural tourism grew to become simpler and extra accessible than it had been. Accordingly, March attends however retains his distance; these individuals give him the creeps, and he desires them to offer you the creeps. The old-style-swishy brothers (“They functioned together with skill. / They lisped. / Their voices were shrill”) could also be sleeping with one another (and might not be siblings); the lesbian is a cobra with eyes “Like a stagnant pool / Filled with slime”; and, when a homosexual love triangle appears to go unhealthy, the onlookers “grinned: / Egged them on: / Cheered: laughed: derided.” (March is a person deeply in love with colons, and every one provides just a little clenching halt that helps create the poem’s unpredictable start-and-stop rhythm.)
Even his description of the get together is blood-chilling sufficient to make these readers who, for the final 12 months and a half, have longed to re-experience the anything-goes luxurious of splashing round in a sea of our bodies (to not point out those that have puzzled with trepidation what it’d really feel prefer to rejoin the social world) resolve to remain in for the night time:
The method they drank was unholy.
They hovered round the glass-filled tray
Like birds of prey.
With mask-like faces
Frozen in inflexible, homosexual grimaces.
Admittedly, “faces”/“grimaces” isn’t perfect, however go together with it. The level is, one thing’s coming, one thing unhealthy; March makes that obvious from the first pages. But even when he seems to drop some heavy hints:
Queenie wakened feeling shot.
You can’t belief him. The poem is clearly an obituary. You simply don’t know for whom, for March is knowledgeable at misdirection.