Review: The Complete Poetry of e.e. cummings

Man, what’s to say about e.e. cummings poetry? It’s simply one-of-a-kind. I feel like the closest you get to it is James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake and yet those are two wildly different beasts. The poet followed a path so many poets took, starting out at his strongest and then at different rates growing less and less sharp. Though this is almost never an absolute curvature, it does show in the trend. The difference in quality is most notable when the main part of the book ends (the poems published in collections presented in their entirety) and the uncollected poems start. The uncollected poems, like the collected poems, follow a chronological order until you reach the appendices which contain juvenilia that I can almost guarantee e.e. cummings didn’t want to see the light of day. In fact, the uncollected poems contain perhaps some of the greatest verse in the book.

In terms of technique, cummings plays with type, line breaks, and even forces you to sound out the words piece by piece- often leading you to sound things out incorrectly before the word is completed. The creativity at first seems to suggest expansive possibilities but as I said before, somewhere along the line he got less inspired and for whatever reason it wasn’t words that failed him but the tricks. Just kidding. It was the words, too.

Someone told me e.e. cummings was a genius. It might be a little bit hard to see that in the main experimental material in this book, but if you flip over to the appendices and read what he was writing at Harvard, the poems do show a great deal of technical acumen. I think to him, though, it was clear that he had to pursue a more original direction. None of that material is classic, per say, but it does show a considerable mind at work.

Final Grade: A

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