Sometimes I am asked how I find something to write about. This is my secret.
I’m a dreamer. I relax my mind and memories begin their slow parade past my mind’s eyes. I rope one, separate it from the herd, check it out. If it’s ugly, too personal, or won’t fit, I try again. It’s easy. All I need is something to write about that might awaken interest. We’ll see if it works.
I’m writing about one of my favorite authors, a man whose writings I have sampled and whose complicated life and works are far too big to describe. I offer an outline, some high spots and a recommendation that I hope some might try.
The man’s full name is Edward Estlin Cummings, but the world knows him best as e. e. cummings, lower case intentional. His 67 years ran from 1894 to 1962, starting and ending in New England. Almost five years ago, I found Christopher Sawyer-Lauçanno’s biography of Cummings, and am still mining it. It seems to be describing more than one person.
Cummings was an artist, and a good one. That area was eclipsed by his writing, that made him - next to Robert Frost - the most popular contemporary U. S. poet. He wrote 11 volumes of verse, two verse plays, and two prose books. His style was so diverse that I will only say there is something for nearly everyone.
“E. E. Cummings was an American original,” the biographer wrote in his Preface. “Throughout his forty-five years of professional writing life, he consistently celebrated the ordinary, reviled pretentiousness, scourged conformity, ardently championed the individual (and nature) against the machine, experimented boldly with words and syntax and punctuation, and wrote some of the most erotic and tender love poetry in the English language.” He also wrote for children.
Somehow, Cummings found time during World War I to drive an ambulance for the French and get himself imprisoned briefly for anti-war remarks the French took for treasonous. “The Enormous Room” is Cummings’ autobiographical account, and is representative of his prose. I think everyone should read it, some time. I’ve read my copy twice so far.
Another book I strongly recommend (I’ve nearly worn out my copy) is Cummings’ “Complete Poems” 1913-1962. Except for copyright restrictions, I would quote some in here.
I will quote what my wife and I had written on our wedding cake, taken from poem XXXIV: “as yes is to if, love is to yes.” Typical Cummings, at once enigmatic and profound. We had to explain it to some of the wedding guests.
Fellow Poet Archibald MacLeish said this about Cummings: “There are very few people who deserve the word poet. Cummings was one of them.” I agree. Everyone should at least sample some of Cummings’ writing.