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The Poems


Edward Estlin Cummings's (1894-1962) distinctive poetry is immediately recognizable. Cummings molded, altered, and disrupted language to his own ends and in so doing achieved a body of work that is engergetic and unique, both aurally and visually. His expirmental approach to language, style, and poetic form was matched by a playful, sometimes sardonic approach to content.

The pivotal moment in Cummings's experience of the 1930s was his visit to the Soviet Union in 1931:

Like many other writers and artists of the time, he was hopeful that the communist revolution had created a better society. After a short time in the country, however, it became clear to Cummings that the Soviet Union was a dictatorship in which the individual was severely regimented by the state. His diary of the visit, in which he bitterly attacked the Soviet regime for its dehumanizing policies, was published in 1933 as Eimi, the Greek word for "I am." In it, he described the Soviet Union as an "uncircus of noncreatures." (Gale Authors Online)
This disgust with the horrors of the 1930s expressed itself in poetry that elevated the individual human and aesthetic experience through an intensely ironic attitude toward all "movements," artistic or otherwise.

Consider the 24th poem in the 1935 volume No Thanks. Cummings satirizes literary pretension. He writes:

	to hell with literature
	we want something redblooded

	lousy with pure
	reeking with stark
	and fearlessly obscene
The language is aggressively mocking, with the adjectives converted to nouns as though the fierceness of tone would overwhelm any attempt at vocalization. There is in this a sense that the joy of play with language is of greater importance than attempt at communication or the impact that speech might have on any but the speaker. The speaker speaks for his own pleasure. "To hell with literature" he says, the visceral act of speech is a greater thrill than the formulation of or theorizing about deeper social or literary significances.

Cummings's desire to skewer literary and social concerns or pretensions is tempered by a genuine appreciation for a human capacity for individual transcendent signficance. In the 13th poem in New Poems of 1938, Cummings dismisses "i or anybody" not knowing "where it her his / my next meal's coming from" along with "cosmic / rays war earthquakes famine" because it "doesn't matter" compared with being "beautiful or / deep or generous" which are not "swell" but "true". Cummings engages with the historical reality of his era by distancing his poetry from it, seeking instead a universally meaningful, because grounded in the value of individual humanity, aesthetic experience.

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