Many people have never heard of Edward Estlin Cummings although he is one of the most celebrated American poets of the twentieth century. Those who have read his poems will for sure underscore their formlessness, senselessness, and disregard for grammar, punctuation and spelling. Indeed, Cummings experimented with the form and syntax, shying away from traditional techniques and structures in order to create a new means of poetic expression which was radical and powerful, covering the subjects of war, physical love, family, old-fashioned virtues, the miracle of life, nature and the relationship between an individual and the society. His works vividly demonstrate that he wanted to fit into the mainstream of modern art.
Cummings poetic talent was not only noticed and appreciated, but also rewarded with a number of honors. In the 1960s, he became the second widely read poet in the USA, yielding the palm to Robert Frost. Despite the fact that he favored modernism and absorbed different ideas while travelling throughout the world, he could not completely get rid of the New England literary tradition, as the themes of his works show. A significant impact on Cummings technique had the Harvard Poetry Society, which he was a member of in his student days. As he later admitted, he was particularly fascinated by and drew inspiration from the poems of Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein, and began to experiment with spacing and topography, creative placement of punctuation, line breaks, and avoidance of capital letters, which in the aggregate became his trademarks. Reading his poems was rather a challenge rather than entertainment.
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The twenties was the most prolific period in Cummings career. In 1923, his first collection of poems Tulips and Chimneys was published. During his lifetime, he wrote and published more than nine hundred poems although not all of them have high literary merit. Some critics pinpoint that Cummings poems reflect the tragedies and difficulties of his personal life, such as an early demise of his beloved father, unhappy marriages and custody fights. His poetry became more life-affirming and exuberant when his personal relationships improved. Feelings and emotions dominate analysis and reasoning in his works. Cummings was also one of the first poets to celebrate individualism over mass culture. However, one of the first things that a reader may notice when reading his poems is the use of the pronoun I in the lower case, which is the reminder that self is not as important as it seems. Cummings is the man of contradictions.
What strikes most about Cummings is his versatility. Besides poems, he wrote plays, sonnets, prose pieces, travelogues and satires, embellishing them with a sharp sense of humor in the forms of ironies, puns, and parodies. He was also interested in surrealism, jazz and cubism, contemporary slang, which were not popular with the mass culture in his time. He was prolific in painting and sketch work, which were also marked by his wry wit. Cummings was probably the best critic for himself, taking pleasure in commenting and making fun of the writing process.
Cummings was one of pre-eminent voices of modernist poetry in American literature who stressed form over meaning. Modern-day readers can unmistakably discern his rebellious attitude towards religion, politics, conformity and artificiality, which combined with unabashed romanticism secure him a prominent place in the vast sea of American literature. Cummings understood the importance of presentation and, indeed, painted various canvases with words. His poems are not just for contemplation, but for admiration in the first place.
Tender Buttons: beyond Understanding
Tender Buttons is one of the most fascinating works written by Gertrude Stein. In this work, she discusses the problem of a self in relation to the external forces. It also portrays the relationship of consciousness to language as if the latter was an outfit. I have a feeling that Stein was going round her house describing the objects she found and wondered what it would be like to put them into new contexts. In such a way, she intended to emphasize that objects are capable of rearrangements and they all have meanings, and when put into new contexts they encourage us to reevaluate the reality. She mentions such objects as a carafe, a cushion, a box, a table, an umbrella, a cloak, a stamp, a plate, a bottle, a dress, a hat, a coat, a piano, a chair, a purse, cloth, a cup and a saucer, paper, a handkerchief, roses, shoes, a shawl, a book, a pencil, etc. All these things we have, encounter or often use in everyday life, taking them for granted. Tender Buttons is replete with metaphors of lesbian encoding. Steins descriptions corroborate the fact that there are no limits to an individuals creativity. Besides, she encourages readers to answer the question: is life art or is art life?