Friday, October 14, 2016

Birthday: “Listen;” e e cummings said, “there's a hell of a good universe next door: let's go.”


Edward Estlin Cummings (1894-1962)
Recipient, The Guggenheim Fellowship (1933; 1951); The Shelley Memorial Poetry Award (1944); The Bollingen Prize (1958)
Fellow, The American Academy of Poets (1950)
Charles Norton Eliot Professor, Harvard (1952-53)

His was old New England, Unitarian, Transcendentalist stock. His father was a Harvard prof and Josiah Royce and William James would drop by to chill. Cummings received undergraduate and graduate degrees there, then went to France with his college pal, John Dos Passos, to serve in the Ambulance Corps.

He loved Paris but didn’t think much of the French military, the mail censorship, and a load of other things. He managed to so irritate the French that they arrested him for suspicious activities in 1917 and held him in jail for several months. It took his dad’s getting through to President Wilson to spring Cummings, who spent long stretches in Paris off and on for the rest of his life.

Cumings took up poetry at eight, writing one every day until he was 22. He settled on a non traditional twist on traditional forms; many among his 2900 poems are sonnets, only without standard capitalization or punctuation. He stretched words, sometimes deliberately misspelling them, always looking for a different way to explore meaning. His work, which showed the influences of Pound, Gertrude Stein and Amy Lowell, ranged across a seemingly limitless range of topics.

In 1926 his parents were involved in an auto accident at a rail crossing; his father died and his mother was seriously injured. Cummings’ work took a turn toward more important aspects of life: love, happiness, death, nature. In addition to his poetry he indulged his wanderlust as a travel writer in the 1930s; apolitical until a 1931 visit to the Soviet Union, he became much more conservative in his views thereafter. From 1924 his base was a flat at 4 Patchin Place in New York's Greenwich Village, where he spent years with the woman who may or may not have been his third wife; at intervals he’d stick his head out a window and shout toward toward the apartment of the reclusive novelist, Djuna Barnes, “You still alive, Djuna?”

The Writer’s Almanac says of Cummings, “He spent most of his life unhappy and irritable in New York, struggling to pay the bills, ostracized by other writers for his unpopular political views, yet he wrote many poems in a naïve style about the beauty of nature and love.
“He had published several books of poetry, including Tulips and Chimneys (1923), but was still relatively unknown. He came to wider public attention by giving a series of lectures at Harvard University. Most lecturers spoke from behind a lectern, but he sat on the stage, read his poetry aloud, and talked about what it meant to him. The faculty members were embarrassed by his earnestness, but the undergraduates adored him and came to his lectures in droves. By the end of the 1950s, he had become the most popular poet in America. He loved performing, and loved the applause, and the last few years of his life were the happiest.”
Cummings died in 1962, full of honors, and is adored to this day by readers of children’s poetry anthologies for works like [In Just]:
in Just-
spring       when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles       far       and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it's

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old balloonman whistles
far       and          wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and




balloonMan       whistles

Every day is a birthday at Henry Bemis Books. Join us for some cake at

No comments:

Post a Comment

We enjoy hearing from visitors! Please leave your questions, thoughts, wish lists, or whatever else is on your mind.