'anybody lived in a pretty how town
with up so floating many bells down'
The poetry of ee cummings is something that most Americans gain exposure to during secondary school (and very rarely in the education of those outside America) -- he is often seen as an acceptable example of one who broke the rules -- rules, the teacher will often hasten to add, which must be mastered before they can be acceptably broken.
Yet this is not what ee cummings would hope had come of his legacy. In reading his poetry in this edition, his prose, his theatrical writings, and his unpublished manuscripts (some of which have been published under the title Etc.), a new vision begins to emerge of a real maverick--not someone who wanted to break the rules, but someone who eschewed the idea of rules so completely that breaking them was beyond the question, for that would have to recognise the value of the rules.
And yet, some rules creep in:
'the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls
are unbeautiful and have comfortable minds
(also, with the church's protestant blessings
daughters, unscented shapeless spirited)'
This is a classic example of a cummings sonnet--adhering to rhyme and meter, yet very original.
Or, perhaps not that original. Unfortunately, ee cummings has become a conventional unconventionality. He was a success at being different--at one point only cummings and Frost, New Englanders both, with very different vines growing on the respective sides of their fence, were able to make a living solely from their writing while concentrating on poetry.
This text contains the entirety of the 12 published volumes of poetry cummings produced in his lifetime. In this we find his faith, his politics, his social criticism and his social prejudices, and his ideas of love and desire.
Some of his poetry is best meant to be read aloud, as all good poetry ultimately finds its best expression not on the lifeless page but in the spirited, feeling telling. There is an incredible sense (try reading it aloud, slowly).
Some of the cummings poetry, however, is simplicity and verges on the concrete. These sometimes resort to cleverness that might have been genius of observation at the time but unfortunately due to overexposure now just seem an elementary type of cleverness. Of course, simplicity is so often overlooked, that when it is seen, we often react not as we should.
Arrangement on the page is so critical to cummings perception of how things must be that the lastest editions of his poetry are put in typewriter typeset (the way he composed and envisioned his poetry). The medium is part of the message, he would have said.
Try to read cummings with a new eye, and look for that which would have been shocking to the more standard and rule-bound Cambridge soul.