Sunday, September 1, 2013

Featured Poet - E. E. Cummings

A couple of quotes: 

To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. 

The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.

I had a high school English teacher who despised E. E. Cummings. She believed his approach to poetry was akin to an evil that was sending us careening into the bowels of hell.  His unconventional use of capitalization, spacing, and punctuation drove her to red faced tirades. 

Why she chose to teach a poet she hated so much, I don't know.  But I knew at the time that I was unable to share her opinion. I also knew that it was unwise to say so. What I didn't know was that I was the one in the majority, not her.    

Cummings' use of capitalization (or lack thereof) was the focus of a fair amount of controversy, but contrary to popular belief he did not eschew them entirely.  His signature for example, was signed using capital letters.  

"I am a small eye poet," he wrote to his mother by way of explanation. He used lower case letters to separate the poet from the poem, a unique way to solve a problem that still seems to plague most poets, the assumption that each poem is a small autobiography.

He was an accomplished writer in prose as well in poetry, and his intelligent, straightforward manner of expression brought him a great deal of respect. But did you know that he was also an artist? In fact, he considered himself as much a painter as a poet. Before he became disillusioned with the artistic establishment he garnered much acclaim as an American cubist and an abstract, avaunt garde painter. 

Unfortunately, not all of Cummings' efforts were as successful. His attempts to add his voice to the dialog on bigotry and racism were misunderstood. He fell into a pitfall that is common today, using the hurtful and controversial words while expecting his unspoken intent to be apparent. Also, surprisingly, this bohemian, avaunt garde writer and artist was a republican and an ardent supporter of Joseph McCarthy. 

When I think of E. E. Cummings, however, I think of poems like these: 

[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
                                                      i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

[i like my body when it is with your]

i like my body when it is with your
body. It is so quite new a thing.
Muscles better and nerves more.
i like your body.  i like what it does,
i like its hows.  i like to feel the spine
of your body and its bones,and the trembling
-firm-smooth ness and which i will
again and again and again
kiss, i like kissing this and that of you,
i like, slowly stroking the,shocking fuzz
of your electric furr, and what-is-it comes
over parting flesh….And eyes big love-crumbs,

and possibly i like the thrill

of under me you so quite new

from: Complete Poems: 1904-1962, Copyright 1991. 
Sources: sketch: self-portrait,   NOT "e. e. cummings" by Norman Friedman, The Paintings of E. E. Cummings (Painting: Nude Trio Two cavorting, one reclining) Ken Lopez Bookseller, Yes, I went to Wikipedia.

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