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Selected Poems Paperback – August 17, 2007
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About the Author
E. E. Cummings (1894–1962) was among the most influential, widely read, and revered modernist poets. He was also a playwright, a painter, and a writer of prose. Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he studied at Harvard University and, during World War I, served with an ambulance corps in France. He spent three months in a French detention camp and subsequently wrote The Enormous Room, a highly acclaimed criticism of World War I. After the war, Cummings returned to the States and published his first collection of poetry, Tulips & Chimneys, which was characterized by his innovative style: pushing the boundaries of language and form while discussing love, nature, and war with sensuousness and glee. He spent the rest of his life painting, writing poetry, and enjoying widespread popularity and success.
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Top customer reviews
Over the past few years, sensing that perhaps I had given poetry short shrift, I have been reading a book of poems every month or so. With a better grounding, I decided to re-visit E. E. Cummings. But my old book of the complete poems from the 1960s was missing from my library shelves, probably appropriated by one of my sons (I wish him well in digesting it). So, in its place, I bought this edition of SELECTED POEMS, edited by Richard S. Kennedy.
There is a lot to be said for it. It includes 155 poems. Editor Kennedy groups and presents them according to subject, roughly construed -- for example, "A Child's World", "Love and Its Mysteries", "The Dimensions of Being Human", "Myths and Allegories", and "Targets of Satire". This approach provided me much easier access to Cummings than slogging through the poems in chronological order. Kennedy introduces each of the twelve sections of the book with a short commentary. Together, the commentaries and the brief Introduction make this SELECTED POEMS an ideal vehicle for getting to know Cummings and his poetry. (Moreover, Kennedy no doubt cherry-picked the poems, such that the 155 included here represent the cream of Cummings's oeuvre.)
After going through SELECTED POEMS I have a much better appreciation of Cummings and his work. Even so, I still don't like much of it, and some of Cummings's trademark mannerisms remain annoying. I think his experimentation with applying the principles of Cubism (breaking up and restructuring) to poetry was misguided. I don't care for the "visual" approach he employs in some of his poems (to me, poetry as a medium is grounded on sound). Too many of the poems contained in this volume are too much the same; for all his experimentation, Cummings does not display great range in style. The poetry is too choppy (similar to J. D. Salinger's parentheses- and comma-laden prose). Finally, I am more annoyed than ever by Cummings's willful disregard for the conventions of punctuation -- particularly his practice of eliminating the spaces after a comma, semi-colon, or colon, or before and after parentheses. Several poems would have been much more effective without the idiosyncratic and anarchic punctuation (for instance, "O sweet spontaneous").
For all that, Cummings had a good grasp of more traditional poetic techniques. He had a genius for word- and phrase-smithing. For example: Spring, "when the world is puddle-wonderful", or "the square virtues and the oblong sins", or "existing's tricky:but to live's a gift". He had a poet's sense of rhythm and rhyme, something that many of his followers in contemporary, experimental verse sorely lacked. (I still think that "Buffalo Bill's / defunct" is one of the finest pieces of free verse ever composed, as well as one of the relatively few that is sublimely poetic.) And, as many of the poems in SELECTED POEMS demonstrate, Cummings handled the sonnet form very well. Here is one such example, written of his exposure in 1917 (while serving as a driver in an ambulance corps) to the Parisian world of brothels and prostitutes:
goodby Betty,don't remember me
pencil your eyes dear and have a good time
with the tall tight boys at Tabari'
s,keep your teeth snowy,stick to beer and lime,
wear dark,and where your meeting breasts are round
have roses darling,it's all i ask of you--
but that when light fails and this sweet profound
Paris moves with lovers,two and two
bound for themselves,when passionately dusk
brings softly down the perfume of the world
(and just as smaller stars begin to husk
heaven)you,you exactly paled and curled
with mystic lips take twilight where i know:
proving to Death that Love is so and so.