The student-friendly poems of Cummings

E.E. Cummings often finds himself on bookshelves in English classrooms alongside Emily Dickinson and F. Scott Fitzgerald. His unusual language and bizarre use of punctuation can send the untrained reader running.

E.E. Cummings’s “Selected Poems,” edited by Richard S. Kennedy, is an invitation for these leisure readers to pursue Cummings’s work at a slower pace.

The collection is divided into sections that feature either a period in Cummings’s life or a topic that he frequently wrote about. Each section is prefaced by an introduction written by the editor, who is also Cummings’s biographer.

Sketches that Cummings created while at Harvard University accompany the reader as he or she works deeper into Cummings’s thoughts. Many of these sketches have never been published before.
The details contained in the introductions provide the reader with insight into different pieces.

In the section “A Child’s World,” Kennedy describes Cummings’s idyllic childhood, which gave him the material for pieces such as “in Just” and “maggie and milly and molly and may.”
While other collections may offer biographical facts, Kennedy takes it a step further to provide some general analysis of the pieces contained within each section.

Having this information before reading the pieces makes them easier to understand, especially for a reader who is not familiar with Cummings’s style of writing.

By far, the most difficult section of the collection is “The Poetry of the Eye.” Inspired by cubism, the pieces contain words broken into two lines or divided by parentheses.

This selection is well-placed in the center of the collection so the reader has had enough experience with Cummings to be able to understand the different emotions he attempts to create with the artfully placed letters.

Cummings is famous for his poems about intimacy and romance. The section “Achieving the Together Colored Instant” contains famous pieces such as “I like my body when it is with your” and “my girl’s tall with hard long eyes.” Kennedy explains that Cummings used metaphors and complicated spacing to mask the explicit sexual images within the poems.

E.E. Cummings is a poet who understands youth. Imagination, relationships, sexuality, politics and death are paths and bridges students must cross every day. Cummings can be a companion for them.

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