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E. E. Cummings, the famous American poet, author and painter, confounded editors and typesetters with his punctuation, spacing, run-on and made up words, and seemingly strange rules of capitalization. He often signed his work ee cummings, and rarely capitalized the letter “i”.

Former high school English teacher, Silver Lake resident and Cummings expert, the author is also the great-niece of Frank Lyman, a frequent subject of Cummings’ poetry and prose.

“Cummings often arranges the lines of his poems in seemingly strange ways:

un(bee)mo

vi
n(in)g
are(th
e)you(o
nly)

asl(rose)eep

(Cumming Complete Poems 691)

The key is to read everything within the parentheses first, then to begin again at the top with the remaining words: Bee in the only rose, unmoving. Are you asleep? If that is all he meant to say, why didn’t he write it that way? He wants us to discover the bee for ourselves as perhaps a bee surprised him when he peered into the heart of a rose. Why the “only” rose? Because our attention is completely focused at the moment on one particular blossom, it is as though no other rose exists. Why isn’t the bee moving? Is he dead? IsĀ  he sleeping the sleep of the sated?”

-From Nobody-But-Himself by Carol L. Batchelder in SPRING, the Journal of the E.E. Cummings Society, New Series Number 6, October 1997.