Known as the poet of “little i”, Edward Estlin Cummings signed many, but not all of his works e.e.cummings.
who are you,little i
(five or six years old)
peering from some high
window:at the gold
of november sunset
(and feeling:that if day
has to become night
this is a beautiful way)
“At one time the most famous American poet after Robert Frost, “by erasing the sacred left margin, breaking down words into syllables and letters, employing eccentric punctuation, and indulging in all kinds of print-based shenanigans, Cummings brought into question some of our basic assumptions about poetry, grammar, sign, and language itself, and he also succeeded in giving many a typesetter a headache…. Cummings reveled in breaking the rules of grammar, punctuation, orthography, and lineation. Measured by sheer boldness of experiment, no American poet compares to him, for he slipped Houdini-like out of the locked box of the stanza, then leaped from the platform of the poetic line into an unheard-of way of writing poetry.” (From: Is That a Poem? The case for E.E. Cumming by Billy Collins in Slate, April 20, 2005).
On October 14, 1894 E. E. Cummings, the well-known American poet, author and artist was born at home on Irving Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Named Edward Estlin Cummings, he was called Estlin by family and friends. The only son of Edward Norton Cummings, a college professor and minister of the Unitarian Church, Estlin was home schooled by his mother for several years and then educated at Cambridge Latin School and Harvard. In 1899 when Estlin was 5 his father bought a large farm on a hillside in the Town of Madison, New Hampshire. Not far from the crystal clear waters of Silver Lake, the farm possessed an incredible view of Mount Chocorua and the Sandwich Mountain Range. Soon after began the life-long relationship between E.E. Cummings and the town around Silver Lake and the people who lived there. Previously owned by one Ephraim Joy, the property was known as the “Joy Farm”. Here Estlin wrote poetry from an early age, built teepees and tree houses, rode the family horse, swam in Silver Lake and played with the neighborhood children. Later he painted landscapes and nudes, escaped from his often tumultuous adult life in Boston and New York, and finally settled down with the love of his life, the model and photographer, Marion Morehouse. On September 2, 1962 Cummings had a stroke shortly after splitting wood at Joy Farm and died the following day at the hospital in North Conway, New Hampshire.
Then as now, Silver Lake was home to Wards, Lymans, Shackfords and Frosts. Members of these families worked for and with the Cummings family at Joy Farm, many became friends and correspondents of EE Cummings and some appear in his poetry and prose. At the time of his death, Estlin and Marion Morehouse were collaborating on a book of Marion’s photographs titled Adventures in Value. Cummings wrote the text for the book which was published after his death. Photos of Jess Shackford, Frank Lyman, and Minnie Frost are included.
There are at least three significant (that is voluminous) biographies of E.E. Cummings. There is also Susan Cheever’s more recent addition to the crowd. From these I learned and condensed the basics, set out above. And then, along comes the most wonderful, colorful and delightful Cummings biography of them all. enormous Smallness written by the poet Matthew Burgess, illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo, is a gem not just for children.
enormous Smallness A story of E.E. Cummings by Matthew Burgess, Enchanted Lion Books, 2015.
For the not-so-brief biography of E.E. Cummings see any of the following:
E.E. Cummings The Magic-Maker by Charles Norman, The Boobs-Merrill Company, Inc.1958
Dreams in the Mirror A biography of E.E. Cummings by Richard S. Kennedy, Liveright Publishing Corporation, 1980
E.E. Cummings a biography by Christopher Sawyer-Lauçanno, Sourcebooks, Inc. 2004
E.E. Cummings: A Life by Susan Cheever, Pantheon 2014