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E.E. Cummings: A Biography [Hardcover]

Christopher Sawyer-Lucanno
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Hardcover, 1 May 2005 --  
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Methuen Publishing Ltd (1 May 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0413774864
  • ISBN-13: 978-0413774866
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 16 x 5.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,401,221 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Synopsis

First comprehensive life of one of the twentieth century's greatest poetic innovators E.E. Cummings is best remembered as one of the first poets of the twentieth century to successfully unite poetic tradition with the avant garde; endlessly experimenting with the poetic form, and producing volumes of playfully iconoclastic verse. In this, the first biography of Cummings for twenty-five years, Christopher Sawyer-Laucanno uses his unprecedented access to the poet's own personal papers to present a picture of a man whose literary success was in direct contrast to the chaos of his personal life. From his strained relationship with his Harvard professor father, his war-time incarceration in a French prison camp, his extraordinary, prolific liaisons with young women (and consequent failed marriages), to his writing of some of the most remarkable and tender poetry of the twentieth century, the biographer is expert at weaving together the different and difficult elements of the poet's life. The first biography of E.E.

Cummings for twenty-five years EE Cummings is read and studied on literature courses everywhere, and is probably the most prolific American poet of the last century Written with unprecedented access to Cummings' own papers


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His birth at home, on October 14, 1894, was not easy, as his mother's meticulous journal entries testify: Held on to Edward and tugged-About 5 towels were arranged and I tugged as hard as possible-Later part of P.M. took lots of gruel-Miss McMahon saw child's hair at 4-Tug of war till 6 then very reluctantly took ether as Dr. Hildreth said it would be bad for the child to wait longer-Dr. Taylor gave the ether (20 minutes). Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Blissful biography of much-loved US poet 14 July 2005
By T. Bently VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover
Before reading this great slab of a book, I had little idea of who E.E. Cummings was, besides knowing he had an unconventional attitude towards punctuation. Thankfully, Sawyer-Laucanno manages to shed much light on the poet and his work in a way which is both accessible to newcomers and meaningful to more seasoned Cummings enthusiasts.

In particular, I liked the way in which the author juggles so many competing demands. He had access to a wealth of archive material and Cummings had a long and eventful life. Yet S-L manages to give play to all aspects of Cummings' activities whilst maintaining the pace and flow of his narrative.

I especially appreciated the almost equal weight given to critiquing Cummings' work as opposed to describing his life. An analysis of how "Buffalo Bill's defunct" came into being, based on early drafts of the poem, gives a particularly rare and precious glimpse of how a fully-formed poem is grown from a few choice phrases.

Another dilemma which L-S addresses, is the fact that Cummings was an enthusiastic and successful painter. It would have been easy to overlook or underplay this aspect but here the paintings are seen as an integral part of Cummings' artistic achievement.

I spotted one or two faults. I don't think Dylan Thomas would relish being called an English poet - as opposed to a Welsh one -and I noticed a misplaced bracket (horror!) on p.533.

I think E.E. Cummings would have appreciated the way this biography manages to find space for a number of small anecdotes aside from the great sweep of the life story. For example, I loved the description of the humming birds bobbing goodbye before migrating south from Joy Farm. This was both heart-warming and highlighted Cummings' love of natural history.
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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Blissful biography of much-loved poet 14 July 2005
By T. Bently - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Before reading this great slab of a book, I had little idea of who E.E. Cummings was, besides knowing he had an unconventional attitude towards punctuation. Thankfully, Sawyer-Laucanno manages to shed much light on the poet and his work in a way which is both accessible to newcomers and meaningful to more seasoned Cummings enthusiasts.

In particular, I liked the way in which the author juggles so many competing demands. He had access to a wealth of archive material and Cummings had a long and eventful life. Yet S-L manages to give play to all aspects of Cummings' activities whilst maintaining the pace and flow of his narrative.

I especially appreciated the almost equal weight given to critiquing Cummings' work as opposed to describing his life. An analysis of how "Buffalo Bill's defunct" came into being, based on early drafts of the poem, gives a particularly rare and precious glimpse of how a fully-formed poem is grown from a few choice phrases.

Another dilemma which L-S addresses, is the fact that Cummings was an enthusiastic and successful painter. It would have been easy to overlook or underplay this aspect but here the paintings are seen as an integral part of Cummings' artistic achievement.

I spotted one or two faults. I don't think Dylan Thomas would relish being called an English poet - he was a Welsh one - and there is a misplaced bracket (horror!) on p.533.

I think E.E. Cummings would have appreciated the way this biography manages to find space for a number of small anecdotes aside from the great sweep of the life story. I loved the description of the humming birds bobbing goodbye before migrating south from Joy Farm. This was both heart-warming and highlighted Cummings' love of natural history.

Overall, I found "E.E. Cummings: A biography" to be absolutely compelling. At first daunted by its length I soon found myself regretting it was so soon coming to an end. Christopher Sawyer-Laucanno more than meets the challenge of enlightening us about Cummings' life. He is no mean story-teller and this work is a masterful achievement.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Solid Biography 22 Jan 2005
By F. J. Svoboda - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This new biography is the first based on complete access to Cummings's papers and also quotes extensively from his poetry in exploring links between his life and work. It is quite readable and makes a good case for the significance of Cummings's poetry without claiming too much.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Man Of Means 3 Oct 2005
By Kevin Killian - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Cummings is a wonderful poet and three cheers for C. Sawyer-Laucanno for attempting to give us a full-scale new reading of the complete works, while trying to clear a space so we can understand his complicated life a bit better.

I wound up seeing the life clearly, and noticing for the first time the extreme high reaches of class privilege that made Cummings' poetry possible. I suppose I had been reading this through the screen of Cummings' novel, THE ENORMOUS ROOM, with its bleak descriptions of prison poverty and deprivation, so without really thinking about it I just assumed that EE Cummings was sort of our American Genet, born of poverty, a hero of the underclass, an outsider artist who just scraped by, like Darger. Far from it, Sawyer-Laucanno reveals. Everything he did seems to have been paid for by generous friends or family, and even in the French jail he was able to buy cartons of cigarettes, razors, books, and fruit from the concierge, because he had a huge trust fund.

Later, during the 1920s when he was writing all his masterpieces, the discerning Scofield Thayer became his patron. Thayer was a complicated case; as editor of THE DIAL his taste helped usher in a new American modernism. He married a beautiful and refined heiress, Elaine, and when Cummings fathered her daughter through an adulterous union, he assumed paternity of little "Mopsy" in a an act of upper-class generosity. A few years later, he granted Elaine a divorce and she married Cummings, although only for two months. Thayer began a descent into madness that lasted until his death in 1982. He had apparently been gay the entire time and nurtured a secret passion for underage boys which got him in hot water from time to time, and perhaps he was in love with Cummings himself. Why not, everyone else was. Cummings must have had something, erotically speaking, for many women were drawn to him and not a few men. In any case we can see, bleakly, how spoiled and privileged Cummings was. No matter what harm he did to others, or to himself, someone would come along with a large checkbook and clean up after him. It's appalling the selfishness, and yet if great poems come in the wake of such self-love, what real harm and what real benefit? It's a stumper.

Sawyer-Laucanno argues that Cummings' play, HIM, is a major ignored work of the American theater. Such is his conviction that it fairly sweeps the reader into feeling the same way, or at any rate wanting to see a first rate production. My idea is that HIM might make a really good movie--by Lars Von Trier perhaps. I can see it on the screen of my imagination, thanks to Sawyer-Laucanno's persuasive, always elegant argumentation.

As for the reviewer in the Washington Post Book World, I honestly don't know what to make of someone whose idea of the three great American poets is Whitman, Frost and Cummings. What kind of mind comes up with that combo? It's like the boys who formed the "Troika" in the later episodes of BUFFY.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exploring the heart and soul of e.e. cummings 27 Feb 2012
By Robert Couteau - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A splendid biography that gets at the heart and soul of Cummings, written in a lyrical, informative, and loving manner. Like all of CSL's books, a must read for the literary enthusiast. Also, I should note that the claims that he plagiarized from the Kennedy biography are completely unfounded; in fact, he clearly cites Kennedy's book in footnotes whenever appropriate. Have a look at both books, each a valuable resource, and decide for yourself. And see my interview with CSL, available online, to get a feel for him as an author and as a warm, kindhearted, and insightful man.
5.0 out of 5 stars I paid $5 for this 4 April 2013
By Kristin - UNH'16 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Inside the book even says that this book is $29.99 new. I paid less than $5 including shipping. It's in excellent condition. The material is just what I need for a school project AND E. E. Cummings is my all time favorite author. I'm extremely happy.
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