Thoughts on E.E. Cummings, An Odd Duck

To kick off the SPP, I decided to be brave and read poetry by someone I wasn’t over-fond of – one of those interesting avante-gard types who never rhyme. E.E. Cummings fit the bill admirably.

Perhaps it’s not what one is supposed to say of a genius poet, but I must say that I think E.E. Cummings a rather odd duck. A renowned 20th century poet, he was known for pushing the boundaries of his craft. He penned pieces with titles like “anyone lived in a pretty how town” and “spring is like a perhaps hand”, which give a taste of the backwards-upside-down way he arranged words.

His poems twist the mind into odd, confused contortions. The man did not believe in The Rules. In fact, his core belief appears to be that rules are for breaking into kindling and lighting into a jolly bonfire.  He let words mean things they don’t mean, let punctuation run amok over the page, and let himself expand the English language whenever the dictionary’s offerings seem insufficient. Baffling. Entering his poems is like entering a boat only to find it’s sail is underneath the water and oh, by the way, that’s not water we’re sailing on – it’s tea.

And yet somehow it works, and you can bob along on his tea-sea rather contentedly, and even reeling in from it’s depths some insights that could belong in the real world. I am amazed by the way language can convey image and emotion even while it is twisted and prodded and poked into strange shapes. Even while – or perhaps, because it is bending in the hands of a poet into something both familiar and unknown.

I cannot like his poetry, I’m afraid, but I can appreciate it. I can learn from it.

My take-away from this odd duck? Hundreds of years spent making a language, and boxing it within a structure of grammar and commas and order, doesn’t much matter so much after all. Poetry, so often squashed into a structure more severe than any other kind of writing, has a soul outside it’s shell. It can do without form and proper vocabulary, without rhythm and rhyme – without the very elements that appear to be it’s essence.

What then is poetry? Do not ask me.

Want to read E.E. Cummings? This site is a good place to enter the rabbit-hole – it has a short bio and a handful of his pieces.



Introducing the SPP

Hello, world. I have news.

I was very sorely tempted to enroll in an online poetry course this summer. I loved the University of Toronto’s Intro to Poetry course, and it’s on my to-do list to take the follow-up course, Poetry 2. However, I had to prioritize and put that idea on hold. Sadness.

SO, I decided that the only cure for my melancholy (and horrible inconsistency in writing), is to create my own  poetry course of sorts. Thus, the SPP: Summer Poetry Project. I’m creating a very casual program of study and assignments for myself, which hopefully will give you all some interesting reading as a side effect.

Part 1 of the plan is to broaden my knowledge of poetry by reading selections from a different poet each week and commenting on their work. I’ll look at how they write and try to pull some lessons from the various techniques and styles.

Part 2: I’m going to review or learn a poetic form every two weeks, write a summary of it and create a lovely gem of a poem in that form. Harder than it sounds, as I know from my last run-in with sonnets. Oy.

I don’t know if it should be a formal “part”, but I’m hoping all that study of other people’s brilliance will inspire a crop of extra free-verse poems as well. At the end of the summer – fingers crossed – I hopefully will have written enough beauty and gathered enough courage to send poems out to the big, scary poetry journals. We shall see.

Wish me luck, comment lots, and be sure to yell at me if I’m not sticking to the program.