Tag Archives: Poetry

Reading through “Time of our Lives”

A couple of weeks ago I finished the essay, “Time of our Lives,” by Mark Harris. The online version is titled, “A Cautionary Tale for the New Roaring Twenties,” probably because that title seemed more clickable. It’s rare that an essay can entertain me in the way that this one does, with sentences that take you much further than you could have expected, with a twist, a play or words, or sarcasm that actually works. The essay is about the poem, “The Wild Party,” written by Joseph Moncure March. The general sense of the poem appears (especially in hindsight) to expose the rotten core of a culture that seemed to only live for pleasure written at the end of the 20s just before the inevitable, harrowing morning after. Included with the essay online is a reading of the poem. At over an hour, I’m ashamed but not surprised that I tapped out a quarter of the way in. But not before the poem, like the essay, managed to make me smile. As an appreciation, some quotes from the essay below.

“There are few things more glamorous than the belief that we are living through the end of an era — and there are even fewer times in recent history when we haven’t believed it.”

“The Wild Party,” Joseph Moncure March’s book-length 1928 narrative poem about the end of an era — the end of a long, louche, bacchanalian night of bodies twining together in lust and in violence; and the end of a life — is drama in it’s coolest, coldest form.”

“In just one eight-word run:

Eyes flashed,
Everyone talked:
Few listened.

March seems to summarize with uncanny precision the entire year that followed his poem’s publication.”

“‘Kindred’ may have been wishful thinking; March’s voice in ‘The Wild Party’ is that of a well-bred young man with a reporter’s eye who stood slightly off to one side with sardonic sang-froid, filing away all the excess he saw for later use.”

“March and his contemporaries were aware of the dazzling-party-being-upended-by-brutal-reality trope as narrative — the narrative of their parents and grandparents, who still mourned the demise of the Bell Époque, the age of sophisticated, elegant European culture spreading its bejeweled wings across the globe before the war ruined everything.”

“Willed optimism can be a powerful thing; the song ‘Happy Days are Here Again’ made its debut one month after the crash of ’29.”

“It would be a mistake to sentimentalize the Roaring Twenties as a time when all classes, ages, and races could converge and mingle if the party was right; it was more a moment when white cultural tourism became easier and more available than it had been.”

“As vivid and evocative as March’s language is, he is less interested in animating his characters than in showing them to us under glass. ‘The Wild Party’ is an autopsy performed under a flickering light by a wisecracking coroner. Perhaps its characters can’t be embodied, only witnessed.”

“As I write this, things are getting worse, or is it better, or is it just different, in New York and across the country. With every new whim of the .001 percent (Tired of the protocols? Consider flying into space on your own rocket ship!) the nightmarish economic inequities of our age are characterized anew with a misuse of the phrase ‘late capitalism,’ as if capitalism were reaching it’s long-scheduled death throws right on time and would then politely disappear.”

“It also doesn’t matter what March knew. His poem knew. And it still reads as a dangerous time-capsule bulletin — something that emerged from a melting ice cap yesterday, or perhaps tomorrow, and bobbed into the sea, waiting to see if, once its bleak tidings reach our shores, we will pay attention.”

Away for now

The book has been written but not yet been read and
the life of the love of the living and dead are searching
the highs and finding the blows
of the fight and the trauma of flight too great
for the one lonely death of the unknown life
untried and untrue,
but unlived and through you I have found that my blood courses too
and my muscles, my eyes, my skin can be used when aligned
to his will to his glory his story of me and my sad little life made anew
from on high to become little like that of his and his alone
on the mountain at dawn getting
away from the work and
away from the tears to laugh and
sing the praises of life made right made day
made green with buds on branches made dead
by years of living inside of my head and denying the water of his divine truth
killing myself and wanting to lose the only thing I was ever given:
my life and my all
to the garbage, I said and to hell with my future
I will make more as a moral for others in death,
and in dying make them finally find their loves and their lives
unloved as mine was over too early and as if the universe
now had a debt to be paid
with the zeal of the rest of those still living
in my memory and for my name, but how vain! and how selfish!
to think that my fall woud be so tragic that others would be moved
by my own sudden end
and Christ’s irony is that my life now is work and the cross is my death every day at sunrise,
new life,
new breath,
new radiant death
and a new vision for myself through his eyes and his mind
that I could not work to find or discern and
now realize it is merely the beginning of things unseen
and life undreamed, resung, reseemed — wrinkles and scars remain
and nothing can be taken away fully forgotten or totally boxed
even life itself is here in this moment and he is faithful to get me where I am going
as long as I am faithful to get away from wherever I am
and he will remove me if I am deemed unfit, unfight, unprepared for the work
and he will take me to this place of ‘away’
of a way that I have not bothered to embrace and have not truly tried.
I do not wish to read this book.
I don’t want to know how the story ends.
I still want to escape sometimes and go nowhere, but he pulls me back to himself,
his places, and his people for his will.
And all I can do is look with him to the new
where he lives. 
The rest is too much.
One day,
but for now,
I am away.