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oetry is not high up on Art Spiegelman‘s reading list. The
creator of the Pulitzer Prize—winning Mutts books — based on his father‘s tape recorded memories of surviving the Holocaust - is more likely to be found loitering around shelves full of ‘picture books‘.
When he stumbled upon Joseph Moncure March‘s lost poetn. he knew he had found something different. Written in 1926 by the young March. an editor for The New Yorker. The Wild Party was met with heavy threats from censors tojail anyone who dared publish it. Relating one night of debauchery in the life of Queenie. a sassy vaudeville dancer. her no-good lover Burrs and their drunken pals. it was finally published two years later and became a sueees (1e seandule. With its staccato tempo and syncopated jazz rhythms. the poem captures the heady atmosphere of 20s New York in all its jazz age decadence.
It was the darker side of March‘s poem that captured Spiegelman's imagination. ‘I have a strong love
Described by William S. Burroughs as ‘the book that made me want to write‘, The Wild Party has gaitth massive
cult status over the last 60 years. Lila Rawlings spoke to
ART SPIEGELMAN. whose illustrations are set to
breathe new life into the jazz age classic.
problem for myself.‘ he says. ‘lllustration can often be a violation in that the writer‘s art is to conjure up pictures with words. Drawing them can be like stealing these imaginary pictures frotn both the author and the reader.‘ His response was to go to the other extreme by making his illustrations leap off the page. "l'he ultimate of any concept for me is its opposite. so I figured that if I over—illustrated the poem. I might achieve the same point as not illustrating it at all.‘ he explains.
This meant abandoning his original plan to produce twelve more low-key brush stroke illustrations. Instead he came up with 75 bold black and white images produced using a scratch board technique. images he describes ‘overly literal. intrusive. everywhere and nowhere at the same time’. Spiegelman worked the page layouts so they changed from spread to spread to echo ‘the unpredictable syncopated rhythm' of the poem itself. "l‘he pictures function as aja/./. saxophone wandering through the larger melody of the poem.’ he says. ‘so that the rhythms of the pictures become as important as what they are.‘
called Dashiell!‘ he says. ‘11 represents a literature that l have a strong fondness for and it was born at the time Hammett and Chandler were beginning to write. It‘s also very hot. lt‘s innocent and sexy at the same time. which fascinated me.‘ This is certainly true of the slick. sexy Queenie who smoulders off the page like a purring Jean Harlow.
Illustrating another person‘s words was a
, Spiegelman. ‘I first had to solve a certain
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new and not altogether easy experience for
Spiegelman has no doubts that The Wild Par/v remains a poem for our time. despite the fact it was written ()0 years ago. 'March‘s perfectly pitched tone of bewildered innocence curdled into worldly cynicism resonates loudly into the ‘)()s.' he says. As a man of the ()()s. Spiegelman also found it easy to relate to the 20s of March‘s poem as an era of great social and sexual liberation. How did he think the parties of pie-prohibition .\'ew York compared to those of his psychedelic youth'.’ A big smile lights up his face: 'l'd say the essence of The Wild l’urrv wasn‘t altogether unfamiliar to tne.‘