...it's not dark yet, but it's gettin' there...

July 21, 2004

Wednesday Is Poetry Day, Every Wednesday

i must confess, e.e. cummings is not my favorite poet. i don't like visual gimmick poetry, and i don't like indecipherable poetry. In that respect i am not alone. When my favorite poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay, was in charge of vetting poets for the Guggenhiem Fellowship, she turned down cummings because she couldn't figure him out. (i wish i had her exact quote; you can find it in the wonderful biography of Millay, called Savage Beauty.)

Thankfully, not all of e.e. cummings' work is hard to read. Take out the weird shit, and what remains is remarkably brilliant. Not surprisingly, i'm especially drawn to his erotic stuff. Sometimes i'm not sure whether he's talking about what i think he's talking about, or whether it's just my own dirty mind. I like that in a poem. Plausible deniability.

An example:

because i love you)last night

clothed in sealace
appeared to me
your mind drifting
with chuckling rubbish
of pearl weed coral and stones;

lifted,and(before my
eyes sinking)inward,fled;softly
your face smile breasts gargled
by death:drowned only

again carefully through deepness to rise
these your wrists
thighs feet hands

          to again utterly disappear;
rushing gently swiftly creeping
through my dreams last
night,all of your
body with its spirit floated
(clothed only in

the tide's acute weaving murmur

Nice, isn't it? Less subtle is this racy example:

my girl's tall with hard long eyes
as she stands, with her long hard hands keeping
silence on her dress, good for sleeping
is her long hard body filled with surprise
like a white shocking wire, when she smiles
a hard long smile it sometimes makes
gaily go clean through me tickling aches,
and the weak noise of her eyes easily files
my impatience to an edge--my girl's tall
and taut, with thin legs just like a vine
that's spent all of its life on a garden-wall,
and is going to die. When we grimly go to bed
with these legs she begins to heave and twine
about me, and to kiss my face and head.

Whew, there's a little bit of excitement for your blog reading day!

But sometimes, e.e. could throw all subtlety out the window, as in this bawdy piece:

the boys i mean are not refined
they go with girls who buck and bite
they do not give a fuck for luck
they hump them thirteen times a night

one hangs a hat upon her tit
one carves a cross on her behind
they do not give a shit for wit
the boys i mean are not refined

they come with girls who bite and buck
who cannot read and cannot write
who laugh like they would fall apart
and masturbate with dynamite

the boys i mean are not refined
they cannot chat of that and this
they do not give a fart for art
they kill like you would take a piss

they speak whatever's on their mind
they do whatever's in their pants
the boys i mean are not refined
they shake the mountains when they dance

Dang, that's some kick-ass poetry. i'm not crazy about a lot of his stuff, but if he were around today, i'd bet e.e. could take the prize at any poetry slam contest.

Posted by annika, Jul. 21, 2004 |
Rubric: Poetry


Terrific choices, Annie gyrl! I do like cummings, even when he absolutely baffles and infuriates me.

The same could be said for you, of course.

Posted by: Hugo on Jul. 21, 2004

Awwww. : )

Posted by: annika! on Jul. 21, 2004

Every time I read this next poem I'm blown away. Strangely, I couldn't find a copy of it on Google, so I've transcribed it as I copied it into a notebook many years ago. I'm no longer sure if my line breaks are accurate, but I think they are, and, at any rate, they are how I have it copied in my notebook.

"Nothing" by e.e. cummings

what Got him was Noth
ing and nothing's exAct
ly what any
one Living (or some
body Dead
even a Poet) could
hardly express what
i Mean is
what knocked him over Wasn't
(for instance)the Knowing your
whole (yes god
damned life is a Flop or even
Feel how
Everything (dreamed
and hoped and
prayed for
months and weeks and days and years
and nights and
forever) is Less Than
Nothing (which would have been
Something) what got him was nothing

Posted by: gcotharn in Texas on Jul. 21, 2004

I am not one of those who stand for the untouchable holiness of the capital letter and traditional typography. So far as I am concerned, Mr. Cummings may do anything he likes with the alphabet, the English grammar, and the multiplication table, provided only the result of his activities be something interesting, and after a reasonable period of application, comprehensible, to a reader of culture and brains. Mr. Cummings may not, however, I say, write poetry in English which is more difficult for me to translate than poetry written in Latin. He may, of course, write it. But if he publishes it, if he prints and offers for sale poetry which he is quite content should be, after hours of sweating concentration, inexplicable from any point of view to a person as intelligent as myself, then he does so with a motive which is frivolous from the point of view of art, and should not be helped or encouraged by any serious person of group of persons...

Edna St. Vincent Millay
Savage Beauty
pg. 370

Posted by: David Boxenhorn on Jul. 22, 2004

Thank you David. i do have the best visitors!

Millay's criticism is good advice for any modern poet. Really, poetry (all art) is communication. If it doesn't communicate anything, what good is it?

Posted by: annika! on Jul. 22, 2004