Why to read E.E. Cummings.

Arts, entertainment, and more.
April 20 2005 2:59 PM

Is That a Poem?

The case for E.E. Cummings.

(Continued from Page 1)








from the sky. "No one else wrote like Cummings, and Cummings wrote like no one else" is how the poet's latest biographer, Christopher Sawyer-Laucanno, delivers the bad and good news in E.E. Cummings: A Biography. And a prescient Harriet Monroe tempered her praise by warning, "But beware his imitators!"

These days Cummings is rarely mentioned. He has become the inhabitant of the ghost houses of anthologies and claustrophobic seminar room discussions. His typographical experimentation might be seen to have come alive again in the kind of postmodern experiments practiced by Dave Eggers and Jonathan Safran Foer, not to mention the coded text-messaging of American teenagers. But the eccentric use of the spatial page that accounted for Cummings' notoriety must be seen in the end as the same reason for the apparent transience of his reputation. No list of major 20th-century poets can do without him, yet his poems spend nearly all of their time in the darkness of closed books, not in the light of the window or the reading lamp.

Editor's Note, April 28: The opening of this essay draws on information in Christopher Sawyer-Laucanno's recently published E.E Cummings: A Biography. Slate has learned that some of this information is incorrect: Mike Wallace and William Carlos Williams did not discuss the Cummings poem on Night Beat, but in an interview published in the New York Post ("Mike Wallace asks William Carlos Williams Is Poetry a Dead Duck?," Oct. 18, 1957). Sawyer-Laucanno, like other scholars, was misled by manuscript notations that inaccurately suggested the exchange took place on Wallace's television program. Part of the interview is also included in Book V of Williams' poem "Paterson." Collins also referred to Wallace's TV program as Nitebeat. In fact, the title is Night Beat. ( Return to the top.)


Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

What Hillary Clinton’s Iowa Remarks Reveal About Her 2016 Fears

After This Merger, One Company Could Control One-Third of the Planet's Beer Sales

John Oliver Pleads for Scotland to Stay With the U.K.

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter


Don’t Expect Adrian Peterson to Go to Prison

In much of America, beating your kids is perfectly legal. 

The Juice

Ford’s Big Gamble

It’s completely transforming America’s best-selling vehicle.

I Tried to Write an Honest Profile of One of Bollywood’s Biggest Stars. It Didn’t Go Well.

Here’s Why College Women Don’t Take Rape Allegations to the Police

The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 1:51 PM Here’s Why College Women Don’t Take Rape Allegations to the Police
  News & Politics
Frame Game
Sept. 15 2014 5:13 PM Hard Knocks I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.
Sept. 15 2014 7:27 PM Could IUDs Be the Next Great Weapon in the Battle Against Poverty?
Sept. 15 2014 4:38 PM What Is Straight Ice Cream?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 15 2014 11:38 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 4  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Listen."
Brow Beat
Sept. 15 2014 5:26 PM Robin Thicke’s Bizarre “Blurred Lines” Deposition Is Both Unflattering and Convenient
Future Tense
Sept. 15 2014 4:49 PM Cheetah Robot Is Now Wireless and Gallivanting on MIT’s Campus
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 15 2014 11:00 AM The Comet and the Cosmic Beehive
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 8:41 PM You’re Cut, Adrian Peterson Why fantasy football owners should release the Minnesota Vikings star.