Weird and Wonderful: The Poetry of e e cummings

My first exposure to the groundbreaking modernist poet e e cummings was “r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r”:

Poem by e.e. cummings

Although it was incomprehensible to me the first time I saw it, I immediately fell in love. That was my senior year of high school, and now as I prepare to write my senior thesis as part of the creative writing subconcentration, I’ve been revisiting the works that changed my view of poetry.

 

Cummings, most often stylized as “e e cummings”, was not the first to use the freedom of the blank page to his advantage. However, his distinct style and whimsical tone have led him to become one of the most well recognized writers of his time. While much of his work is centered around nature and love, he also explores class, war, and human existence. Making frequent use of enjambment (line breaks) and parentheses, Cummings created his own poetic lexicon to describe everyday circumstances in idiosyncratic ways. One iconic example of this is the poem “in Just-“, which pictures approaching adolescence as a menacing force:

the poem "in Just-" by e e cummings

 

Like every writer, I experience roadblocks often while working on my own poetry. My biggest struggle, besides finding inspiration, is feeling pigeonholed into one “type” of poetry. Cummings, however, was unafraid of experimentation. Some of his poetry takes the classical form of a sonnet, and others drift across the page, mixing letters and punctuation until all that’s left is the essence of a feeling. Reading Cummings’s work reminds me that I’m free to explore as a writer, and that change is not only welcome, but encouraged. Even poems that, on first glance, seem nonsensical — such as “!/o(rounD)moon,how…” — are celebrated, not because they stuck firmly to poetic tradition, but because they changed what people imagined poetry could be.

Cummings’s scrambled syntax also shows that language is not static. In the age of the internet, it seems as though there’s a new, trendy phrase every week. Even when they seem invented from nothing, they are still seen as valid words that seamlessly become a part of English — just as the word “poetry” did in the late 1300s. The poetry of E.E. Cummings combines the ever-changing nature of language with the turbulence of life itself, and his presence can be felt everywhere in contemporary poetry, and even in other writing genres as well (for example, novelist Jonathan Safran Foer’s artist book¬†Tree of Codes). As I dive into the process of writing a collection for the first time, I can only hope that Cummings’s strange, yet lasting, influence can be felt in my work, too.

Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer

Harper Klotz

Harper Klotz is a Senior studying Creative Writing and Communication. Her column "Weird and Wonderful" is an opportunity to share the strange, unknown, and just-plain-goofy art she loves with others. Music, film, theatre, and literature are her main interests, but wherever there's something wacky, she'll be there to see it.

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