E.E. Cummings (1894 – 1962)

An American poet, painter, essayist, author, and playwright. Cummings work includes approximately 2,900 poems, four plays, two autobiographical novels, as well as numerous drawings, paintings and essays.

The painting above is one of his works, titled “fantastic sunset”. For more see The Paintings of E.E. Cummings. For a collection of his poetic works see hereAnd check out my post on his poem “may i feel said he”

Life

Born Edward Estlin Cummings on October 14, 1894 to to Edward Cummings and Rebecca Haswell Clarke in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His father was a professor at Harvard where Cumming would later graduate from in 1915.

Cummings wanted to be a poet when he was still a child. He wrote a poem a day from age 8 to 22. He explored a wide variety of forms and learned modern poetry at Harvard.

Want more background on the life of E.E. Cummings? Check out the source and additional info here!

Poetry

Cummings’ work consisted mostly of avant-garde style poetry fill with innovative and experimental techniques. His works often show particular idiosyncrasy of syntax. Just like painting, his poems were a presentation. Words or parts of words might be scattered across the page that at first glance make little sense. His use of punctuation and spelling also exuberantly placed in his poems, sometime making the meaning unclear until read aloud.

Cummings’ poems often have themes of love, desire, lust, relationships, and nature. He had a clear affinity for the romantic tradition. Although his early work drew upon imagism, Cummings later relied on symbolism and allegory, as opposed to simile and metaphor. Cummings often wrote if free verse, but many of his poems are also sonnets with a recognizable structure of 14 lines.

Take a look at E.E. Cummings’ poem “Buffalo Bill” (1920) to get a sense of the unique, almost confusing style. Notice the placement of words and how he strings them together without spaces. It gives the poem a whole different feeling when read aloud.
Buffalo Bill ’s
defunct
               who used to
               ride a watersmooth-silver
                                                                  stallion
and break onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat
                                                                                                     Jesus
he was a handsome man
                                                  and what i want to know is
how do you like your blue-eyed boy
Mister Death
Isn’t poetry neat? Cummings wasn’t afraid to throw syntax, grammar (and sometimes spaces!) out the window.

Name

Due to Cummings’ unconventional orthography in his poetry, even his name has sometimes been stylized to match. Anyone familiar with E.E. Cummings might have noticed his name written in lowercase and without periods as e e Cummings. Cummings was known to sign his name with different versions, however the correct and duly respected way is capitalized with full stops.

French translator, D. Jon Grossman wrote to Cummings on February 27th, 1951 to the poet: “are you E.E.Cummings, ee cummings, or what?(so far as the title page is concerned)wd u like title page all in lowercase?”

Cummings, as witty as always, replied on March 1st, 1951: “E.E.Cummings, unless your printer prefers E. E. Cummings/ titlepage up to you;but may it not be tricksy svp[.]” Source.

So that settles it for me! E.E. Cummings prefers E.E. Cummings despite what various publishers or himself might have written. It was once suggested that Cummings signed his name in all lowercase perhaps as a gesture of humility. Could be?

But let’s give Mr. E.E. Cummings the honor his deserves.

E. E. Cummings. Reproduced by permission of AP/Wide World Photos.
Photo of E.E. Cummings

 

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