E.E. Cummings is one of the most beloved modern American poets. But he was also an enthusiastic painter, and his favorite subjects included landscapes from his summer home at Joy Farm in Silver Lake, New Hampshire. Word of Mouth Producer Molly Donahue brings us this audio postcard from a weekend celebration of Cummings’ legacy. Click here to listen. And here is an E.E. Cummings poem for your day.
Edward Estlin Cummings (1894-1962) , the American poet, author and artist, E.E. Cummings, died at Joy Farm in Silver Lake, New Hampshire and is buried in the Forest Hills Cemetery, Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. The Boston Magazine, November 1991 humorously provided the following epitaph:
e.e.cummings (1894-1962 forest hills cemetary, Jamaica plain
moRe famous for fooLing with punCtuaTion and Grammar thaN for his pOems This cambriDge-bOrn writer became one of tHe most reSPected literaRy vOiCeS of hiS generation
This is E.E. Cummings’ reply to a letter from a high-school editor asking how to become a poet.
“A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feeling through words.
This may sound easy. It isn’t.
A lot of people think or believe or know they feel-but that’s thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And poetry is feeling-not knowing or believing or thinking.
Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.
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.
As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in words, that means working just a little harder than anybody who isn’t a poet can possibly imagine. Why? Because nothing is quite as easy as using words like somebody else. We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the time-and whenever we do it, we’re not poets.
If, at the end of your first ten or fifteen years of fighting and working and feeling, you find you’ve written one line of one poem, you’ll be very lucky indeed.
And so my advice to all young people who wish to become poets is: do something easy, like learning how to blow up the world-unless you’re not only willing, but glad, to feel and work and fight till you die.
Does this sound dismal? It isn’t.
It’s the most wonderful life on earth.
Or so I feel.”
from the October 26th, 1955 edition of the Ottawa Hills High School Spectator (Grand Rapids, Michigan).
E.E. Cummings’ letters from a summer spent at Joy Farm “are crammed with news about raccoons, deer, a red fox who chased crickets, a grey fox, a porcupine who taught her young ones to eat apples, woodchucks, chipmunks who were threatened by a marauding cat.”
& sun &
(E.E. Cummings-Complete Poems 830)
Quote from Dreams in the Mirror, Richard S. Kennedy 1980
In an interview for the Poetry Foundation author Susan Cheever talked about poet E. E. Cummings’ use of lower case letters. What she calls his “lowercaseness”.
“I’m not sure I can make a sweeping statement about lowercaseness. With Cummings, the lowercase “i” is partly because it looks Greek, it’s partly what he got from Sam Ward [a handyman who worked for the Cummings family and who used the lower-case “i” in letters]. We have to assume that Sam Ward used the lowercase “i” because he felt somehow that he was the handyman. I think also Cummings felt that he, Cummings, had to make up in energy and liveliness what he lacked in bulk and sportsmanship and all these masculine attributes that he just didn’t have. I think what he meant by the lowercase “i” was a sort of humble playfulness.
I don’t want to say he was a humble guy. Obviously, no poet is a humble guy. I mean, one of the big questions in his life is why did he leave Harvard so angrily. “The Cambridge Ladies” is an angry poem about Cambridge, where he grew up and where he stayed until he was 23. So when he left Cambridge, it was a real breakup. One of the reasons he left is that uppercaseness of Cambridge. I think the uppercaseness of Cambridge, especially when Cummings was there… in 1916 and 1917, was really harsh.”
Susan Cheever on E. E. Cummings and the state of biography.
by Claire Luchette
Originally Published: April 8, 2014
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:
(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? Is 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.
April was poetry month. In celebration, the Madison (NH) Library set out a “poet tree” where anyone could write out and hang a poem on a leaf. Reading a leaf with one of E.E. Cummings’ poems, a middle school student asked, “Why did he write it like that?”
“Even readers who seldom read poetry recognize the distinctive shape that a Cummings poem makes on the page: the blizzard of punctuation, the words running together or suddenly breaking part, the type spilling like a liquid from one line to the next:
is upon a gra
Cummings was not the first poet to use a typewriter, but as this poem shows, he was the first to take advantage of its power to control the exact spacing and shape of every line, and thus to make a poem’s visual appearance as important as its musical rhythms. What looks like a thin trickle of letters becomes, to a reader who has learned Cummings’s tricks, a picture in print: the snowflake “alighting” in a twirl, the severe vertical of the “gravestone.” This playful tinkering with language is the most obvious and appealing sign of Cummings’s originality; as he once wrote, it is “such minutiae as commas and small i’s,in which…my Firstness thrives.”
The Rebellion of E.E. Cummings
The poet’s artful reaction against his father—and his alma mater
by Adam Kirsch
Joy Farm, the much loved summer retreat of the poet, E.E. Cummings, sits at the top of a long uphill drive and commands a stunning view of Mount Chocorua and the Sandwich Mountain Range in Carroll County, New Hampshire. The barn was more than 100 years old when Cummings’ father, Edward Norton Cummings, bought the property in 1898, just before Estlin’s fourth birthday.
“For many years there was no electricity. They read by kerosene lamplight, and heated water, pulled from the well by an old-fashioned sweep, on the woodstove in the kitchen. But the screened porch faced Chocorua Mountain. And north was over the barn.”
or thrushes toward dusk amount whippoorwills or
tree field rock hollyhock forest brook chickadee
whycoloured worlds of because do
not stand against yes which is built by
forever & sunsmell
(sometimes a wonder
of wild roses
E.E. Cummings Complete Poems 512
-from Nobody-But-Himself by Carol L. Batchelder in Spring The Journal of the E.E. Cummings Society, new series Number 6