Love Poems You Wish You Had Written #5: More E. E. Cummings

Valentine

Valentine (Photo credit: Wendy Copley)

Well, here we are. Officially by the almighty clock we have arrived on Cupid’s wings at the big V.D.  Happy Valentine’s day, my lovelies.

I have been recording a few little short love poems tonight that I will try to post tomorrow, well later today, but to me it’s not tomorrow until after I wake up. So there. By that rule, it’s still Valentine’s Eve.

I’m actually rather proud of myself that I didn’t post any of my anti-love poems, my poems of failed relationships which seem to come so much more naturally to me.

But since we are down to the wire and there are several more pieces I’d like to share, which will be followed by (probably not until Friday) a companion post called “A Love Song I Actually Did Write,” let’s skip blythely on past ceremony. Or at least we can make this more of a Vegas-style ceremony–quick, glitzy and cheap.

We had a little E. E. Cummings already in this series, but that’s not stopping me. I have already encouraged you to post your own favorite love poems, and if you haven’t done it, well then I cannot let you get away with complaining that I’m over-dosing you on Cummings. You had your chance. Besides, “Who pays any attention/ to the syntax of things/ will never wholly kiss you.” And so after this you can consider yourself wholly kissed by the poet E. E. Cummings.

E. E. Cumming's signature, uppercase

E. E. Cumming’s signature, from Norman Friedman‘s records. Note uppercase letters.

Okay, so first off, it is E. E. Cummings. It is not e. e. cummings. I know you’ve seen it a thousand times printed that way, and as it seems in tune with his tendency toward unconventional capitalization you’ve assumed, as tradition has, that this somehow honors him, or that he signed his name this way. In fact the urban legend goes that he preferred his name to remain in lower case. Not true. A good distillation of the entire myth this can be read on the Flocabulary blog. Here’s an excerpt.

It seems that the convention of writing “e. e. cummings” in lowercase came about after some publishing houses printed his name on the cover in lowercase letters. After a critic wrote that e. e. cummings had legally changed his name to lowercase letters, Cummings’ wife wrote, “you should not have allowed H. Moore to make such a stupid & childish statement about Cummings & his signature.”

For more in-depth details of this debunking read Norman Friedman’s “NOT ‘e. e. cummings’” article from 1992, where he shows us a photo of the poet’s signature which is capitalized, and reminds us that while Cummings often used capitalization (as well as punctuation and syntax) in unconventional ways, he did in fact use capital letters all over the place. He revisits the topic with more proof in a later add on to the original article.

As we may have mentioned, due to the kindness of D. Jon Grossman’s son, Jerome, we have the complete file of Jon’s correspondence with Cummings. On making a preliminary tour through these letters, we found Jon preparing a French edition of his translations of Cummings’ poetry, and on 27 February 1951 he wrote to the poet: “are you E.E.Cummings, ee cummings, or what?(so far as the title page is concerned)wd u like title page all in lowercase?”

The poet replied on 1 March 1951: “E.E.Cummings, unless your printer prefers E. E. Cummings/ title page up to you; but may it not be tricksy svp[.]“

That seems definitive to us: may it not be tricksy!

Now, didn’t I imply I’d be sparse on the commentary this time? Dang this Vegas-wedding-chapel glitz and glamor! Ah heck, it is the day for cupid, arrows, hearts, glue and glitter after all. So why not some love for the man’s name being written as he and his widow wanted?

On to the readings. As usual I’ll include the text of the poems following each video.

  • The first video is from three years ago, so like last time the video quality isn’t up to my current standards. But the reading is nice, and the poem is a favorite of mine, “my love is building a building.” Ah, the beauty and fragility of infatuation.
  • The second video is from that rock star of online poetry readings, Tom O’Bedlam (or so he calls himself) from the Spokenverse YouTube channel. It’s one of those poems that somehow uses all the trappings, sap and schmaltz of Valentine’s greeting cards, and yet somehow pulls off the job of not being a cliche’. I think the success lies in Cummings’ skills at taking metaphors beyond the edge. Be sure to read Tom’s hilarious commentary in the video description on YouTube, which mirrors Cumming’s over-the-top approach brilliantly, and has upset a lot of Westerners with calcium deficient funny bones.
my love is building a building
around you, a frail slippery
house, a strong fragile house
(beginning at the singular beginning

of your smile)a skilful uncouth
prison, a precise clumsy
prison(building thatandthis into Thus,
Around the reckless magic of your mouth)

my love is building a magic, a discrete
tower of magic and(as i guess)

when Farmer Death(whom fairies hate)shall

crumble the mouth-flower fleet
He'll not my tower,
                          laborious, casual

where the surrounded smile
                                       hangs

                                                breathless
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
                                                      i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars aparti carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

(Once again, I just couldn’t resist that last link).

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22 thoughts on “Love Poems You Wish You Had Written #5: More E. E. Cummings

    • :-) I hope I didn’t sound snotty. Lots of people write in lower case, and so did I before I realized that some editor wrote fiction thinking it was fact, and started the whole trend. I think it’s a hoot how the poet’s widow got all pissy about the whole thing.

      And yes! Tom’s commentary had me laughing hysterically while I was reading it this evening. Maybe even better are the responses to some of his less humoured comment makers. :)

  1. “but to me it’s not tomorrow until after I wake up. So there. By that rule, it’s still Valentine’s Eve.”

    Man if that’s the case tomorrow doesn’t exist in my world!

    Thank you for this, it made my day a lot better sitting here at work thinking about the candy I can be wallowing in.

  2. Pingback: Immersed. « Musings of a curious human
    • When I first woke up this morning, I tried to read this comment on my cell phone without my glasses. For a moment I thought whoever said this said, “I don’t need much Cummings.” I was taken aback! :-) Glad I got that wrong, and happy to have been able to expose you to more of his work.

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