May 30, 2013

Joseph Moncure March and The Wild Party

Joseph Moncure March's poem, The Wild Part was relatively obscure after its first publication.  March had been The New Yorker's first managing editor, but he quit in 1926 to write the poem.

It was published with illustrations by March's classmate Reginald Marsh in 1928.  Only 750 copies were published, but that didn't stop cities like Boston from banning it. The Wild Party did get something of a cult following and typewritten copies were distributed.  But, it was out of both legal and illegal print before the end of the 1930s. More recently, the poem has been re-issued, but usually as a censored version without "certain racial and sexual references."  However, writer and illustrator Art Spiegelman found an uncensored copy in a used bookstore and illustrated the entire text for a 1994 reprint.


The epic poem is about (what else?) a wild party told in rhyming couplets. 

The poem begins like this:

Queenie was a blonde and her age stood still,
And she danced twice a day in vaudeville.
Grey eyes.
Lips like coals aglow.
Her face was a tinted mask of snow.
What hips—
What shoulders—
What a back she had!
Her legs were built to drive men mad.
And she did.
She would skid.
But sooner or later they bored her:
Sixteen a year was her order.

 The main character, Queenie lives with her lover, a vaudevillian clown named Burrs.  They fight and to get over it, they decide to to invite their colorful friends and throw a party.  Before the night is over Queenie ends up carrying on with someone else which leads to disaster.

Oh, yes—Burrs was a charming fellow:
Brutal with women, and proportionately yellow.
Once he had been forced into a marriage.
Unlucky girl!
She had a miscarriage
Two days later. Possibly due
To the fact that Burrs beat her
With the heel of a shoe
Till her lips went blue.

March went to Hollywood to work as a screenwriter in 1929 and rewrote silent film, Hell's Angels into a talkie.  He wrote Hollywood screenplays until 1940.

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