In Competition No. 2368 you were asked for a poem entitled ‘At a cocktail party’. This sprung from my rereading of Auden’s delightful but rarely anthologised poem ‘At the Party’. Interestingly, not one of you described an occasion that was obviously enjoyable. Among the prizewinners (who get £25 each) Tim Raikes is the only guest who doesn’t feel violently antisocial. Noel Petty takes the crate of Cobra Premium beer.
‘Noel, you must meet Hugo: Hugo sings.
‘Noel plays viols, you know. Or is it lutes?
‘Anyway, Hugo, one of those early things.’
And off she trips to coin more attributes.
Hugo and I exchange a wary smile,
Then buckle down to milk our tenuous link,
Spar unproductively a little while,
Then wander off to find another drink.
They are an art-form, these ice-breaking ploys.
One hears oneself explained in one short phrase.
‘Gerald keeps goats.’ ‘Amanda has seven boys.’
‘Henry’s a whiz on early Georgian trays.’
Perhaps the form could be developed more;
One longs to make it meaningful and deep:
‘This is Letitia. She’s a part-time whore.
‘And here’s her husband Tom: he buggers sheep.’
Now, do be a dear and come over here,
I’d so love you to meet Petronella.
Quite apart from her looks, she has read all your books
And says there’s so much you must tell her.
See that girl over there with the mousy brown hair?
I wish she would circulate freely,
I shall find her a man if I possibly can
— Ah, here comes the dear Bishop of Ely!
Now, Cordelia dearest, as you are the nearest,
Could you go and chat up the professor?
He’s been eyeing that flirt with the rather short skirt,
But his Chemistry doesn’t impress her.
Oh, Cedric, how kind, I must say I find
These parties of mine such a pleasure,
So here let us stand, martinis in hand,
Discussing the guests at our leisure.
‘And do you know…’ (loud braying drowns the name)
‘I’m sorry, didn’t catch…’ (more of the same)
‘The foxy Mrs…’ (there’s another shriek)
‘I’m sorry…’ (might as well be speaking Greek)
‘It’s awf’lly…’ (lost in some ear-splitting yelp)
‘I haven’t…’ (basic lip-reading might help)
‘I….’ (and the rest is lost in raucous clamour)
‘And…’ (cocktail parties have no trace of glamour
with greetings bugled like a view-halloo —
barker to barker, Yahoo to Yahoo.)
‘So, do you…’ (eardrums tremble at the squeals)
‘I can’t quite…’ (full-lunged hearties’ laughter peals)
‘Perhaps…’ (this loud-mouthed whooping’s got to stop)
‘I wonder…’ (can’t these decibels just drop?).
Awash with gin, this senseless hullabaloo
Quacks, squawks and clacks: I’ve heard a quieter zoo.
Getting into university is quite easy these days,
Especially since young people always get three As,
But to get into a cocktail party
You just have to be boring-old-farty.
All you really need is a suit,
And evidence of possessing quite a lot of loot,
Plus, preferably, a much younger trophy wife,
Who can juggle a glass, plate, napkin, canapé and knife.
The canapé, by the way, is a dry biscuit with drier ham on
Because someone has already eaten the nice ones with salmon,
And the conversation is about stocks and bonds,
With people who look as if they live at the bottom of ponds.
The hostess is indescribably tarty,
The host’s ego is bigger than his girth;
You’re nearer to Hell at a cocktail party
Than anywhere else on earth.
‘You’re something in IT, they say.
Do tell me what you do all day.
I’ve never learnt, try as I might,
How many googles make a byte.
Ah, yes, I see. Oh look, here’s eats —
Jugurtha serves amazing treats;
She has a charming, rustic touch —
It comes, I’m sure, from being Dutch.
No danger of the arty-tarty,
Her canapés verge on the hearty.
Well! Don’t look now, but isn’t that
The man who stars in Sell your Tat?
I can’t think where Jugurtha gets ’em —
They’re hardly jet set, more like jetsam.
Heigh-ho, must circulate, I fear.
So pleasant to have met you, dear.’
‘A drink? Yes, that blue one looks rather delightful.’
It doesn’t much matter; they all taste the same.
These party concoctions are perfectly frightful.
‘Not really invited? You sort of just came?’
I’d better continue this daft conversation:
‘You’re here with your partner, your husband, your ex?
You’ve bought a small flat above Waterloo Station?’
That’s handy for travel, if noisy for sex.
‘You say he’s in furnishing — Austria — spinach?
An expert on pyramids — seaweed — Matisse?
They’re moving to Greenland? Oh, sorry — from Greenwich!
His godmother’s cousin’s your stepsister’s niece?’
‘And Basil? Ah, Bernard — I’ve got it. He couldn’t —?
(No peanuts — allergic!) Arrested? And why?
There aren’t? None at all? Oh, their aunt — no, she shouldn’t!’
The door — what relief! ‘So enjoyed it — goodbye!’
No. 2371: Utter zoo
Edward Gorey’s ‘Utter Zoo Alphabet’ offers 26 rhyming couplets, from A to Z, describing imaginary animals: ‘The Wambulus has floppy ears/ With which to wipe away its tears.’ You are invited to provide similar couplets involving eight consecutive letters. Entries to ‘Competition No. 2371’ by 6 December.