Cummings_and_Unconventionality.pdf - Klein 1 Pam Klein...

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Klein 1 Pam Klein Department of English Language and Literature University of Northern Iowa Cedar Falls, IA 50614-0502 [email protected] Phone 319-429-3523 Fax 319-273-5807 Cummings and Unconventionality: Deviance as Grounds for Academic Study Pam Klein Gerald Locklin, poetry scholar and admirer of E. E. Cummings, 1 informally surveyed his favorite poets, asking them to discuss the extent to which Cummings influenced their work. Though the results of the survey were inconclusive, Locklin suggests that contemporary poets “found in Cummings‟s work the permission to venture in new directions . . . that allowed them to employ talents for which they had found no models among the poets from whom they were supposed to be learning” (45 - 46). Locklin‟s statement calls attention to two conc epts that are important to any serious discussion of Cummings‟s poetry: firstly, that it influences contemporary poets, if only in that it expands the possibilities of poetic license; and secondly, that academe is not promoting studies of Cummings‟s work. Vernon Shetley corroborates both these points in his review of Cummings‟s Complete Poems 1904-1962 and The Enormous Room . He points out that Cummings, a “genuinely popular poet,” is not foisted on students: his popularity is earned in a way that “operates outside the command economy of the university” (39). In other words, students do want to read Cummings‟s work, but they have to read it outside the classroom. Additionally, 1 Though I am exclusively referring to Cummings in his capacity as an artist, which may give me license to decapitalize his name because it is, in a way, his artist persona, I choose to follow capitalization conventions used by anthologies such as Norton‟s.
Klein 2 Shetley comments on Cummings‟s influence on poetry—or rather, his “[influence] on b ad undergraduate poetry” (39), though he doesn‟t explain whether he calls that poetry bad because it is a failed imitation, or because it imitates Cummings‟s work. Shetley does call “[t]he typographical fancies that most readers associate with Cummings . . . largely gimmicks, one-shot tricks that don‟t repay rereading” (42), which indicates that he believes any imitation of Cummings‟s work would result in bad poetry. By referencing the “gimmick” label, Shetley calls attention to some of the controversy surr ounding Cummings‟s work. Though some critics agree with Shetley‟s assessment, others have explained how Cummings‟s “typographical fancies,” as well as his other deviations from convention, use the visual aspect of poetry to good effect. However, future cri tical attention to Cummings‟s work should not try to decide whether or not Cummings‟s work is “gimmicky” because that question has a deeper root in an opinion of what poetry should accomplish. Instead, a study of his work will bring to light an individual‟ s assumptions about the nature or purpose of poetry. Additionally, such a study will bridge the gap Locklin references between the popular and the academic by discussing successful contemporary poems that contain echoes of Cummings‟s deviant influence. Thi

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