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Silver Lake Revisited

Photos by Gillian Huang-Tiller and Ken Tiller unless otherwise noted
Click here for the Spring version of this piece

In 1997, Spring published Norman Friedman’s and David V. Forrest’s “Our Trip to Silver Lake,” a brief account (with many good photos) of the Cummings Society’s 1996 trip to New Hampshire to visit to Cummings’ summer home, Joy Farm. In this issue, we chronicle a return visit nineteen years later, sponsored by the Friends of Madison Library (FOML). Besides visiting Joy Farm, we were able to make outdoor visits to “Abenaki,” the Cummings cottage on Silver Lake, as well as Ruth Shackford’s farm, old Mr. Lyman’s house and barn, Sam Ward’s house, and (almost) Hurricane Point. In addition, we spent a morning and part of an afternoon viewing Cummings paintings and memorabilia collected at the Madison Historical Society Museum.

The visitors from the Cummings Society were Gillian Huang-Tiller, her husband Ken Tiller, Steven Katz, and Michael Webster—five fewer in number than those who made the 1996 journey. Our hosts were numerous, and generous with their time, advice, performances, and conversation. Chief among them are Susan Lee (Madison Library), Peter and Joyce Stevens, Peter and Becky Mattison (Joy Farm), Ann and David Wilkins (Madison Historical Society), Carol Batchelder, Ruth Shackford, and her son, Jesse Shackford, III.

Early Friday afternoon, Joyce Stevens and her husband Peter led a group consisting of David and Ann Wilkins, Gillian Huang-Tiller, Ken Tiller, and Michael Webster up a rutted two track path through the woods to “Abenaki,” the house that the Reverend Edward Cummings and Sam Ward built on Silver Lake, with a view of Mount Chocorua.[1] The property today is some 75 acres, but back then, Edward Cummings owned even more—almost the whole east side of the lake. The house is three stories, plus a large livable attic space. Since the current owner had not yet opened for the season, we could only view the house from the outside.

Figure 1: Abenaki

Figure 1: Abenaki

In the winter of 1909-1910, Sam Ward and others transported all the building materials for the house across the frozen lake via sledge. Cummings’ sister Elizabeth noted in her memoir that when the Cummings family arrived in the summer of 1910, “the cellar, walls, roof, and sides of the house were made, but there were only very rough floors, there were no windows in the window frames, and the stairs were not finished. My brother and I were delighted to be living by the lake and to be able to swim and go out in boats, and to help build our house. The whole family turned to and helped” (87).

The Reverend Cummings was something of a developer of the east side of Silver Lake: he designed and helped build at least two other houses there: the Smith-Ettinger-Foerster house on Hurricane Point and the Winter Road Hill house, built in the style of a Norwegian country house for English professor and editor William D. Howe. (See Bubb 29-34, 69-73 and Pfeffer 116-120.) A visit to the Foerster house is briefly discussed in Friedman and Forrest’s article (9) and Margaret Foerster herself writes of the house in Spring 6. Another source of information on Abenaki and Edward’s house-building is Roy Bubb’s Among the Giant Pines: The Century-Old Summer Houses of Silver Lake.[2}

Figure 2: view of Mount Chocorua from Abenaki

Figure 2: view of Mount Chocorua from Abenaki

Later Friday afternoon we followed Joyce Stevens’ car up High Street and North Division Road to a turn-off on a kind of one-lane dirt logging road (what we in Michigan call a “two-track”) and bumped along through the dense woods for maybe a mile until we emerged in a clearing to see Joy Farm at the top of the hill. The current owners, Peter and Becky Mattison, hosted a marvelous tea for the visitors and locals, served on the first and second floor porches with a view of Mount Chocorua and the White Mountains.[3]

Figure 3: View from the first floor porch at Joy Farm

Figure 3: View from the first floor porch at Joy Farm

(By the way, the natives of Madison, NH and environs pronounce “Chocorua” like this: “Sho – KOR – u (oo) – wa”—with the accent on the second syllable.) Joy Farm was bought in 1899 from one Ephraim Joy and refurbished and expanded by Cummings’ father, with extensive help from a local carpenter with the resonant name of Zantford Savary.

Additional photo: Zantford Savary (courtesy of Joyce Stevens)

Additional photo: Zantford Savary (courtesy of Joyce Stevens)

In our “Cummings at Silver Lake” brochure, Joyce Stevens had transcribed some notes in which Cummings describes how his father transformed the house:

When my New Hampshire father bought what was variously known as the Hatch place or the Joy farm (after successive owners Hatch and Ephraim Joy) its primitive hilltop house faced a painfully made clearing. Not for nothing is New Hampshire nicknamed the Granite State; that clearing was ringed with gigantic rocks: boulders of all imaginable shapes yanked from the earth, year after year, by sweating men and horses. . . . All the ramshackle house’s crazy windows gave on to that clearing—not even a peephole graced the opposite side. [H]ad the back of the house contained a single aperture some Hatch or Joy might have found herself or himself confronted by some of the seven loveliest mountains in the world. . . . My father’s first deed was, by cutting windows and building a porch on the side toward the seven mountains, to turn his newly purchased house around without moving it.

Figure 4: Joy Farm now

Figure 4: Joy Farm now

Figure 5: Joy Farm then

Figure 5: Joy Farm then

Six of these seven peaks are marked in the photo of “Joy Farm then.” Comparing this photo with one of the present-day house, we can clearly see how Mattisons’ addition on the right has replaced a much smaller kitchen area. (Peter Mattison told me that a massive fireplace in the kitchen collapsed and had to be rebuilt.) Of course, the large windows that Edward added on the mountain side of the house are not visible in the “then” photo, but we can see on the left of the photo how the second story extends over the first floor porch. Elizabeth Cummings’ memoir describes these renovations:

Later my father made the house still bigger by building a full second story that extended out over the porch. . . . After the house was made bigger, the roof had a long flat part with a railing around it. There were stairs leading up to the roof, we used to have lots of fun on that flat roof. From it you could look out to the mountains and to the woods and fields all around. (110)

In the photo, we can clearly see the stairway to the flat roof between the first and second dormer windows. (All the dormer windows were also added by Edward Cummings.) As he did at Silver Lake some 10-15 years later, Cummings’ father sold or donated some of his large land holdings around Joy Farm. His brother John lived just north of Joy Farm, and in 1900, Edward gave ten acres of land just to the south to the Reverend Samuel Crothers, a fellow Unitarian minister. The “Crothers Croft” was also built by Zantford Savary.

Cummings’ father opened up the interior of the house by removing some partitions and constructing a large open staircase in the middle of the house. The railings and risers on the staircase, as well as the shelves he built for books, are constructed of 2″ x 6″ boards. The extensive renovations and solid construction of the house are the marks of a confident man: the Reverend Edward Cummings was no meek little preacher. The stairway in particular reminds me of his son’s description of Picasso as a “Lumberman of The Distinct” chopping “hughest inherent / Trees of Ego” to “hew form truly” (CP 95).

Figure 6: Downstairs sitting room, with the stairway in the foreground

Figure 6: Downstairs sitting room, with the stairway in the foreground

Additional photo: Top of stairs at Joy Farm

Additional photo: Top of stairs at Joy Farm

Additional photo: Antlers and bust at the top of the stairs

Additional photo: Antlers and bust at the top of the stairs

At the top of the stairs was very large (2-3 feet high) plaster bust of Zeus—a sort of unwearable mask. Downstairs there were many books on the shelves— almost all of them Edward’s or Rebecca’s. The Mattisons has set out many old magazines out on tables and chairs—some Outlook magazines circa 1903-1910, some fashion mags and New Yorkers from the ’30s and ’40s, a few Paris Matches from the ’40s and ’50s, and the 1953 LIFE magazine with the complete publication of Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea. Cummings’ palettes were on display, as well as two quite good small portraits—one of himself and one of Anne.

Figure 7: Cummings’ sweater and Hemingway issue of LIFE

Figure 7: Cummings’ sweater and Hemingway issue of LIFE

Figure 8: Portraits of Cummings and Anne

Figure 8: Portraits of Cummings and Anne

On Friday evening, the FOML presented a “Cummings at Silver Lake” program at Noyes Hall in the Madison School. David Wilkins began with a short nonlecture impersonation of E. E. Cummings, followed by Wilkins (as Cummings) and Peter Stevens (as his questioner) reading the short dialogue called “Foreword to an Exhibit: II” (Miscellany 316-317), which was followed by a reading of “A Poet’s Advice to Students” (Miscellany 335). Next, the Silver Lake Singers performed six musical versions of Cummings poems, including Vincent Persichetti’s setting of “purer than purest pure” (CP 601), Ellen Mandel’s setting of “when faces called flowers float out of the ground” (CP 665), and Dexter Harding’s setting of “I’m very fond of / black bean / soup” (CP 1023), performed on guitar by the composer himself. Jesse Shackford III and Ruth Shackford then read some of Cummings’ letters written to Ruth when she was caretaker of Joy Farm. (Excerpts from these letters may be read in Norman Friedman’s article in Spring 6.) The program concluded with a round table of reminiscences of Cummings and Marion by Jesse Shackford, Ruth Shackford, Henry Forrest, Linda Drew Smith, and Carol Batchelder.

Figure 9: Jesse and Ruth Shackford (photo by Duane Dale)

Figure 9: Jesse and Ruth Shackford (photo by Duane Dale)

Jesse talked of the time when Marion called him to Joy Farm to help her after Cummings suffered the massive stroke that ended his life. Carol Batchelder spoke of how Cummings would stand by the memorial light looking out at the lake while Marion went to the post office or the store. (See Carol’s article in Spring 6, “Nobody-But-Himself.”) One can hear Ruth and Jesse Shackford discuss the Cummings they knew in this audio postcard from New Hampshire Public Radio.

On Saturday at the Historical Society Museum, Steven Katz gave an excellent talk on Cummings’ art, concentrating on the Silver Lake / Joy Farm / Mt. Chocorua works.

Figure 10: Steven Katz presenting

Figure 10: Steven Katz presenting

In the Museum gallery were several of Cummings’ oil sketches, as well as two fine landscapes of donated by Ruth Shackford.

Figure 11: E. E. Cummings, Mount Chocorua (1949; photo: FOML)

Figure 11: E. E. Cummings, Mount Chocorua (1949; photo: FOML)

Also on display were early photos of Elizabeth and Estlin and their father, Elizabeth’s (quite large) doll, and a shield that the 10-year old Cummings made from the bottom or top of a sugar barrel. With his wood-burning kit, he incised in the middle of the shield his totem animal, an elephant. Around the edge of the shield “are 10 rather abstracted animals, including a goat, a snake, a tiger, a leopard, a dog, a rhinoceros, and an alligator or crocodile” (Wilkins).

Figure 12: Cummings’ elephant shield

Figure 12: Cummings’ elephant shield

On Saturday afternoon, with the help of an excellent map provided by our hosts, we went on a self-guided tour of outdoor sights around Silver Lake. We drove first to the Depot, Post Office, and Memorial Lighthouse at the head of Silver Lake. Frank Lyman’s place is just down the road: Mr. Lyman would supply Cummings and Marion with fresh vegetables, and of course, he is the wise protagonist of “old mr ly” (CP 567). Another Cummings poem, “now comes the good rain farmers pray for(and” (CP 754), depicts Frank and his son Reg and daughter-in-law Lena standing in “the barn’s immense / doorway,” watching the rain fall. When we were there, the barn was filled with antiques, and outside was a small exhibit showing the photo of Mr. Lyman from Adventures in Value. A grasshopper alighted and Gillian snapped a photo.

Figure 13: Grasshopper and Frank Lyman

Figure 13: Grasshopper and Frank Lyman

North of the Lyman place on High Street is Jess Shackford’s farm, while to the south on Plains Road on the west side of Silver Lake is Sam Ward’s farm. Ruth Shackford showed us a landscape that Cummings painted, with a view of her back yard and the mountains beyond.

Ruth Shackford and painting

Figure 14: Ruth Shackford and painting

At Sam Ward’s place, current owner Joyce Stevens had displayed on the porch some photos of Sam and his wife Mame, a composition board with Cummings’ elegy for Sam, “rain or hail” (CP 568), and copies of letters (from the Houghton Library) to and from Cummings and Sam.

Our last stop was a visit to Hurricane Point Natural Area. In the summer and autumn of 1920, Cummings finished writing the bulk of The Enormous Room at his tree house on the point. (He would paddle a canoe from Abenaki to the point, work all day, then paddle back for supper.) The Friends of Madison Library web site Cummings at Silver Lake notes that “Three pine stumps and a rotting trunk inclining down-slope toward the lake mark the site of the tree house.” Despite the excellent trail leading to the end of the point, Gillian, Ken, and I cravenly retreated after seeing masses of poison ivy lining the pathway. We missed the remnants, but the wonderful site reminded us that even while writing of his incarceration in a French prison camp, Cummings remained close to nature.

Figure 15: Searching for Hurricane Point

Figure 15: Searching for Hurricane Point


Michael Webster
Grand Valley State University


[1] Sam Ward is eulogized in Cummings’ poem “rain or hail”: “sam was a man / grinned his grin / done his chores / laid him down” (CP 568).

[2] Among the Giant Pines may be purchased from the Madison Historical Society Museum. (Chapter two, titled “Reverend Edward Cummings Family—Joy Farm and Abenaki,” also has a brief consideration of Sam Ward.)

[3] Some photos of the tea at Joy Farm have been posted on the FOML Cummings at Silver Lake site.

Works Cited

Batchelder Carol A. “Nobody-But-Himself.” Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society 6 (1997): 26-44.

Bubb, Roy. Among the Giant Pines: The Century-Old Summer Houses of Silver Lake. Madison, NH: RB Press / Madison Historical Society, 2013. [Chapter two is titled “Reverend Edward Cummings Family—Joy Farm and Abenaki.”]

Cummings, E. E. “Foreword to an Exhibit: II.” Memorial Gallery, Rochester, NY (May 1945). Rpt. in E. E. Cummings: A Miscellany Revised. Ed. George J. Firmage. New York: October House, 1965. 316-317.

—. “A Poet’s Advice to Students” Ottawa Hills Spectator (26 Oct. 1955). Rpt. in E. E. Cummings: A Miscellany Revised. Ed. George J. Firmage. New York: October House, 1965. 335.

Donahue, Molly. “Audio Postcard: A Celebration of E.E. Cummings.” Word of Mouth, New Hampshire Public Radio, 20 July 2015. Web and Radio.

FOML. “E. E. Cummings at Silver Lake.” Madison, N.H.: Friends of Madison Library, 2015. Brochure.

—. “Where did E. E. Cummings write The Enormous Room?” Cummings at Silver Lake, Friends of Madison Library, 31 May 2015. Web.

—. “Tea at Joy Farm.” Cummings at Silver Lake, Friends of Madison Library, 16 July 2015. Web.

Foerster, Margaret. “A Note on Cummings and My Family at Silver Lake.” Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society 6 (1997): 22-25.

Friedman, Norman. “Letters from the Cummingses to Ruth Shackford.” Spring: The Journal of the E .E. Cummings Society 6 (1997): 18-21.

Friedman, Norman and David V. Forrest. “Our Trip to Silver Lake.” Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society 6 (1997): 9-17.

Pfeffer, W. Tad. The Hand of the Small Town Builder: Summer Homes in Northern New England, 1876-1930. Boston: David R. Godine, 2013.

Qualey, Elizabeth Cummings. When I Was a Little Girl. Ed. Carlton C. Qualey. Center Ossipee, NH: Carroll County Independent, 1981.

Stevens, Peter. “Sam Ward.” Cummings at Silver Lake, Friends of Madison Library, April 2015. Web.

Wilkins, David G. and FOML. “Madison Historical Society: The Cummings Family Collection at the Madison Historical Society.” Cummings at Silver Lake, Friends of Madison Library, April 2015. Web.



CFP: “What about It?”: Science, Nature, Self, and Cummings’ Modernist Aesthetics

(deadline 9/5/16; Louisville, 2/23-25/17)

The E. E. Cummings Society and the Society’s journal, Spring, invites abstracts for 20-minute papers for the 45th annual Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture since 1900, February 23-25, 2017, at the University of Louisville ( This session welcomes papers on elements of Cummings’ modernism, cultural aesthetics, genre issues and visual effects, critical reception, and interactions with other modernists. We particularly welcome papers on Cummings’ aesthetic and poetic modernism as a response to modern science, its theories of matter, space, and time, and its impact on so-called progress, in addition to his avant-garde testament to the radical changes of twentieth-century visual culture. To what extent does Cummings’ asyntactic poetic style and continued typographic experimentation respond to the post-Einsteinian understanding of “space-time” and to what extent does Cummings find the new science problematic? We are interested in papers that examine Cummings’ reaction to science, as well as his perception of a dynamic relationship between nature and self (his lower case “i”) amid what he considers the mechanized “anaesthetic” science-worshipping unworld.

Please send 300-word abstracts (double-spaced and titled) and a brief bio by September 5, 2016 to:

Gillian Huang-Tiller
Professor of English
Dept. of Lang. & Lit.
128 Zehmer Hall
University of Virginia-Wise
Wise, VA 24293

Stephen Scotti and ViVa Cummings!


Stephen Scotti was a musician and composer who set many of Cummings’ poems to music and organized a musical review of his settings called ViVa Cummings! [later revised and retitled as “E. E.! (Viva Cummings)”]. In 1990, at the end of the run of the old series of Spring, Scotti wrote of his work on ViVa Cummings: “I was overwhelmed with joy . . . with all the feeling that was in the Mazur Theatre that night brought about because of the love we all have for this most remarkable of men, E. E. Cummings. . . . I put this work together out of love for this poet. I had no commission or underlying motive to put in the amount of time it took to realize these songs and [arrange] the order of the poems to create the experience of the spirit of the poet as if bringing him back to life in a darkened theatre” (“Scotti Discusses” 12). David Forrest’s review of that performance amply supported Scotti’s feelings:

The twenty or so of us from the E. E Cummings Society who heard and saw VIVA CUMMINGS! . . . were unanimously enthusiastic and praising as we met afterwards with Mr. Scotti and the actors. We especially appreciated the great care that had gone into the order of the poems. The first act deals with Cummings’ bawdy and political satire, the second with the big themes of love and death. The three actors were brilliant effective and creative. (10)

Throughout the review, Scotti performed at the piano, giving, Forrest reported, “virtuoso renderings of many of the most sardonic dialect pieces, such as ‘next to of course god america i.’ The rendering of ‘Jimmie’s got a goil goil goil,/ Jimmie’ in successive versions in the style of the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, with everything from Durante to rock, torch and double-time, was a crown jewel of the evening” (10-11). Forrest added: “Every college English teacher should have as a fondest wish that students see this production.” Forrest’s review concludes: “this night nothing disappointed, and the production set a standard showing what such musical settings can do when the composer is at one with the lyrics and the poet’s spirit. I shall always hear some of the poems Mr. Scotti’s way” (11).

Stephen Scotti was born in Somerville, Massachusetts, raised in the North End of Boston (where he learned to play piano and accordion), and educated at Rindge Technical School in Cambridge, and at Boston University, where he received a degree in music. His obituary in the Gloucester Times reports that “Mr. Scotti taught music at the Hotchkiss School in Connecticut and also the Lawrence Vocational School of Lawrence, Mass.” Scotti later became a piano technician and tuner, a job that allowed him time to pursue his vocation as a musician. After tuning a piano, Scotti would often sit down and play. In her memorial piece on Scotti, Gail McCarthy quotes Gloria Stanton: “he . . . started playing these incredible pieces of music. I came out of the kitchen, and what he was playing brought tears to my eyes.”

In addition to the poems of Cummings, Scotti also set to music the works of William Butler Yeats, James Joyce, and Bertolt Brecht (Goodwin 163). In Spring 5 (1996), Rufus Goodwin reported that

Scotti has performed his arrangements of the poetry of William Butler Yeats and the lyrics and limericks of Edward Lear in England, in St. George’s Hall in Glastonbury. . . . Also in the ’80s, Scotti performed the Irish poet’s poems at the Yeats summer school in Sligo. He had to tune the old German grand piano at the annual summer program himself. (163-164)

Scotti also wrote and produced at least one other musical revue, Songs and Stories of Cape Ann and Cape America (McCarthy). One can hear Scotti performing two of the songs from the review here. He also set some of his own lyrics to music, among them a little ditty called “Burn All the Flags,” whose chorus goes: “Burn all the flags / from here to Xanadu / Undrape the world / to free me and you” (quoted in Goodwin 164).


Cover of Program for the Provincetown Theater Company production of ViVa Cummings, May, 1990.

As noted in Norman Friedman’s bibliography in The Theatre of E. E. Cummings, ViVa Cummings! was first presented in Gloucester, MA, October 1984, with direction and choreography by William A. Finlay. The review was also performed at the Provincetown Inn, May 1990, and presented by the Blue Heron Theatre Company at the Mazur Theatre in New York City, October 1990, as well on tour in April 1992 in Bogota, Columbia and Caracas, Venezuela (here’s the complete program for the May 1990 production). To Friedman’s list, Rufus Goodwin adds performances on Martha’s Vineyard and Boston University in October 1994. Goodwin also notes that William Finlay directed a “circus” version of the show, including “trapezes, clowns, and stilts,” produced “for summer theatre at Union College, Schenectady, New York, in 1995.” Finlay reported that the circus version was “even ‘more magical’ than the concert version” (Goodwin 163).

In Spring 8 (1999), Forrest reviewed a new production of the slightly renamed E.E.! (Viva Cummings) performed in April of that year at the Blue Heron Arts Center, New York City. Forrest noted that Norman Friedman “greatly enjoyed” the performance while also pointing out in typical Norman fashion “that Scotti’s selections emphasize Cummings’ earlier works, especially the lyrical and satiric ones, which lend themselves to theatrical presentation, at the expense of the philosophical” (180). The “News, Notes, Correspondence” section of Spring 11 (2002) reported that “Stephen Scotti and Kristine Stott gave a very successful concert of Cummings poems set to music at the ALA Conference in Cambridge, MA, May 24-27, 2001 (228). Like Forrest, I vividly remember the performance of “Jimmie’s got a goil” (CP 233) in the successive pop styles of the ‘20s, ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s. In 2006, Kristine Stott recorded a CD of Scotti songs, including some Scotti originals, eight Cummings songs, and two settings of Dorothy Parker’s poems. (Among the Cummings songs on the album are “May I Feel,” “Maggie and Millie and Mollie and May,” and “Jimmie’s Got a Goil.”) Although this CD is out of print, one can listen to each track individually on You Tube. Or the entire CD may be downloaded electronically from Apple iTunes, Great Indie Music, or CD Baby.

As I reported in Spring 17 (2010), Scotti sent me a homemade CD of his own performances of settings of three Cummings poems: “O the sun comes up-up-up in the opening” (CP 773), “(of Ever-Ever Land i speak” (CP 466), and “i thank You God for most this amazing” (CP 663). (Clicking on these links downloads the file.)  These three tracks long remained unplayable on any device that I possessed, but now that technicians at my university have restored them, we can hear Scotti’s own (somewhat scratchy) performances. I hope that, despite the imperfect restoration of the three songs, one can hear in them what Rufus Goodwin called Scotti’s “showbiz sound, as if Scotti were an old hoofer, a tap dancer, a former carnival man, maybe a barker” (165). In a note to me that accompanied the three-song CD, Scotti wrote:

I learned everything I know about Cummings from Slater Brown who lived in Rockport, MA with his amazing wife. I performed “i thank You God for most this amazing / day” at his memorial service in Rockport. He asked me to sing it for him before he died. (169)

In the manner of Cummings, Scotti’s circus-jazz-vaudeville style could serve serious purposes as well. Goodwin quotes Scotti as saying: “To me, the song . . . is the distillation of truth with the right selected words and the right selected melody. This is reality. The rest of the time is unreal” (161).


Michael Webster
Grand Valley State University

Works Cited

Goodwin, Rufus. “E. E. Poetry in Performance: Scotti and Cummings.” Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society 5 (1996): 161-168.

Forrest, David V. “Forrest Reviews ‘Viva Cummings’.” Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society Old Series 10.2 (October 1990): 10-11.

—. “Review of E.E.! (Viva Cummings): A Musical Review Conceived and Composed by Steve Scotti.” (Blue Heron Arts Center, New York City, April 16, 1999) Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society 8 (1999): 179-180.

McCarthy, Gail. “Stephen Scotti Recalled as Consummate Musician.” Gloucester Daily Times Wednesday, July 3, 2013. Web.

“News, Notes, Correspondence.” Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society 11 (2002): 169-171. Print and Web.

“News, Notes, & Correspondence.” Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society 17 (2010): 152-175. Print and Web.

Scotti, Stephen R. “Stephen Scotti Discusses Production and Review.” Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society Old Series 10.2 (October 1990): 12-13.

—. “VIVA CUMMINGS! On the Road in South America (April 1992).Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society 3 (1994): 97-101.

Stephen Scotti.” Gloucester Poet Laureate (dedicated to the poets and poetry of Gloucester MA), 2009. Web.

Stephen R. Scotti, 78.” Gloucester Daily Times July 1, 2013. Web.

Stott, Kristine. May I Feel: Songs by Stephen Scotti. CD. Swansong Productions, 2006. [Available on You Tube or download at Apple iTunes, Great Indie Music, or CD Baby]


Track List for Kristine Stott’s CD May I Feel: Songs by Stephen Scotti

  1. Come Gaze with Me 2:45
  2. Valentine for New York 2:17
  3. Interior 3:42
  4. Sweet Spring 2:16
  5. Modes of Attire 2:47
  6. Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town 4:53
  7. A Strand of Pearls 2:03
  8. Maggie and Millie and Mollie and May 2:23
  9. May I Feel 1:51
  10. This Little Pair 1:45
  11. I Thank You, God 2:57
  12. Unfortunate Coincidence/One Perfect Rose 2:30 [Dorothy Parker]
  13. The Satin Dress 2:17
  14. Resume 1:11 [Dorothy Parker]
  15. Jimmie’s Got a Goil 4:23



Cummings Centennials (1914-1915)

Thayer Hall, Image from

Thayer Hall, Image from

The school year 1914-1915 was Cummings’ senior year at Harvard, the year he moved the few blocks from 104 Irving Street to Thayer Hall in Harvard Yard. (In the fall of 1915, Cummings continued his education at Harvard, studying for his M.A.) Other residents of Thayer Hall included S. Foster Damon, John Dos Passos, and Robert Hillyer. According to Charles Norman, Cummings “adorned his mantelpiece with four or five elephants and his walls with ‘Krazy Kat’ comic strips” (34).

In his junior and senior years, Cummings’ studies shifted from a concentration on Latin and Greek to courses in English and Comparative Literature. Christopher Sawyer-Lauçanno reports that though Cummings started out as a Classics major, he eventually graduated with an “AB in Literature with concentrations in Greek and English” (59). Among the courses Cummings took was the year-long Literary History of England and Its Relations to that of the Continent, which covered European literature up to the Renaissance. He also continued his Greek studies with Greek VI, which studied Greek drama, and he studied Chaucer with William A. Neilson.[1] In addition, Cummings took George Lyman Kittredge’s course that studied intensively six Shakespeare plays. Kennedy writes: “most student recollections depict [Kittredge] in the classroom as playing a well-rehearsed role of omniscient scholar: an imperious eagle-eyed old man hurling penetrating questions or answering queries with authoritative scorn as he lifted his well-trimmed white beard in the air” (Dreams 63).

In his senior year, Cummings took a couple of year-long courses that deserve special mention. The first, Kennedy asserts, was “a major educational experience” for Cummings, the “year of Dante under Charles H. Grandgent . . . the foremost Dante specialist in the English-speaking world.” Not only did Cummings read The Divine Comedy in Italian, but also studied “the culture of the Middle Ages, the history and politics of Florence, the nature of allegory, and . . . [read] Il Convivio, De Monarchia, [and] La Vita Nuova” (Dreams 60). Kennedy reports that Cummings was “intensely interested in the material of the course and sat, an alert figure, in the front row. He took extensive lecture notes [and] drew elaborate diagrams of Dante’s Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise with allegorical details minutely placed in the scheme” (60). The second year-long course Cummings took was Dean Briggs’ Advanced Composition.[2] Kennedy writes that “Briggs was no doubt the best-loved professor in the Harvard yard. He was a very kind, gentle, gracious human being,” who, like Cummings, was “slight of build, very boyish in appearance,” and who, also like Cummings, “had attended Cambridge Latin School and went on to study Greek at Harvard” (69). Students in the course wrote poetry, prose, and essays; probably one of Cummings’ first compositions was a sentimental war poem about a grieving mother, “From a Newspaper August 1914.” Kennedy informs us that “his father later had copies of it typed with a new title, ‘The Casualty List,’ and inserted into the pages of Eight Harvard Poets” (134).[3] Sentimentalism did not preclude aestheticism: one of Cummings’ essays from October 1914, “The Young Fawn,” is characterized by Kennedy as “an overwritten scenario inspired by the ballet ‘The Afternoon of a Faun,’ which drew Briggs’s polite rebuke ‘Now and then I suspect you . . . of putting in some details for sound’s sake—of indulging yourself in that for which English 5 is one of the best remedies’ ” (70). Later in the year, Cummings would write an essay on Chinese and Japanese poetry called “The Poetry of Silence,” which Kennedy sees as showing “an improvement in style and some appreciation for economy in expression” (72). Cummings also wrote for the class a children’s story, “The King,”—“about a little boy who takes a toy elephant to bed with him at night” (Kennedy 72). It was published in The Harvard Monthly in July 1915.

Cummings’ most substantial work for the class was his 27-page term paper, “The New Art,” which, in shortened form, the poet delivered as a “graduation part” at the Harvard commencement ceremonies on June 24, 1915. In the longer text, Cummings wrote that the essay traces “the continuous development [in painting] from Realism to Monet and from Monet to Duchamp-Villon” (qtd. in Kennedy 83). In addition, Kennedy writes, the essay undertook “to show the interconnections among the new tendencies in the visual arts, music, and literature” (83). The audience at the Sanders Theatre seemed to accept Cummings’ discourse on the aesthetics of the new music and painting, but when the speaker came to treat poetry, he ruffled the audience by quoting from the imagist verse of Amy Lowell, sister of Harvard’s president A. Lawrence Lowell. S. Foster Damon recorded the audience’s reactions: “Sanders Theatre shuddered in sibilant horror as he recited: ‘Why do the lilies goggle their tongues at me’ ” (qtd. in Norman 43). Damon continued:

One aged lady (peace be to her bones!) was heard to remark aloud: “Is that our president’s sister’s poetry he is quoting? Well, I think it is an insult to our president!” Meanwhile, the president’s face, on which all eyes were fixed, was absolutely unperturbed. (qtd. in Norman 43-44)

Maybe not entirely “unperturbed”: later, Cummings recorded in his notes that Lowell “turned to brick” (qtd. in Kennedy 84). After Amy Lowell, the young orator quoted from Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons, which functioned admirably, Cummings wrote later, as “comic relief” (cf. Kennedy 84-85). Whatever the audience reactions, the “New Art” speech showed, as Kennedy writes, a remarkably “discursive acquaintance with so much of the avant-garde activity in the arts” (83).


Damon and Cummings, circa 1914

This acquaintance was in part due to the tutelage of friends and mentors like S. Foster Damon and Scofield Thayer. As the previous “Cummings Centennials” article noted, it was Damon who introduced Cummings to much that was new in the arts, lending him copies of Poetry magazine and taking him to see the Boston version of the Armory Show in 1913. Much of the discussion in “The New Art” of art, dance, music, and literature is indebted to Damon’s influence. Cummings told Charles Norman: “Practically everything I know about painting and poetry came to me though Damon” (38).

Cover of Pound's Ripostes

Cover of Pound’s Ripostes

It was Damon who loaned to the young poet Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons (1914) and Ezra Pound’s anthology Des Imagistes (1914) (Dreams 78-79). Damon also probably introduced Cummings to Alfred Kreymborg’s little magazine Others, which began publication in July 1915. Perhaps most importantly for Cummings’ future poetic career, Damon showed Cummings Ezra Pound’s Ripostes, which contained the poem “The Return.”[4] Years later in the mid-1950s, Cummings wrote in his notes that this poem “made me(for better or worse)the writer I am today.” He was impressed by the poem’s modern treatment of a classical subject, but he noted that the “inaudible poem—the visual poem,the poem for not ears but Eye—moved me more” (qtd. in Kennedy 106).[5] In 1957 Cummings wrote to Charles Norman that he would never “forget the thrill I experienced on first reading ‘The Return’ ” (Letters 241).

In addition, Damon and Cummings continued to explore cultural events and nightlife in Boston. Sometime in 1915, Cummings found a new girlfriend, whose name Kennedy gives (and only in his notes) as Doris.[6] Kennedy writes that

Her letters to Cummings in 1915 show her to be a warm, vivacious charmer, almost a character out of an early F. Scott Fitzgerald story. She was enthusiastic about parties, dances, clambakes, card games, tennis, boating, swimming, much pleased with her new roadster (a Scripps-Booth with bright red wire wheels) devoted to her new dog Scottie, and struggling to be a proper New England girl. . . . In her letters she would lapse into French whenever she touched on a delicate subject. (87)

Kennedy says they “drifted away from each other during 1916” (88).

Two days after Cummings delivered “The New Art,” Scofield Thayer embarked from Liverpool, returning from two years of study at Oxford (Dempsey 27). Sometime that summer, Thayer sent Cummings a copy of Blast II, the “Review of the Great English Vortex” edited by Wyndham Lewis (Kennedy 94-95). Thayer sent a great many books, apparently, among them perhaps Willard Huntington Wright’s Modern Painting: Its Tendency and Meaning (1915), which greatly influenced Cummings’ aesthetics. Milton Cohen writes that the book “virtually became Cummings’s bible in the teens and twenties . . . from which he typed out long paragraphs verbatim in his notes” (120). In his letter to Thayer thanking him for the books (“your weighty package from Brentano’s”), Cummings wrote: “ ‘Blast’ is a very important addition to my limited library. Could I procure the first number thru B.?”[7] Among the Vorticist etchings, essays by Lewis, and poems by Pound in Blast II, Cummings found most intriguing T. S. Eliot’s poems “Rhapsody on a Windy Night” and “Preludes”—which he promptly copied out.

Despite his continued fascination with the new art, the poems that Cummings published in 1914-1915 in The Harvard Monthly show little evidence of this interest. With the exception of a few memorable phrases, most of the poems Cummings published are overloaded with Pre-Raphaelite imagery (“her hands / Hurting the dark with lilies”) and rather precious metaphors (“In green cloisters throng / Shy nuns of evening, telling beads of song”) (CP 867 and CP 868). The themes of love, longing, and twilight that predominate in these poems would reappear in better form in Cummings’ more mature work. And while Cummings’ intense craftsmanship is evident in these poems, it is somewhat obscured by the elaborate and outdated diction. However, a refrain in “Nocturne,” published in March 1914, presages one of Cummings’ earliest triumphs. The lines “All silently I loved my love / In gardens of white ivory” (CP 864) were given a bit more medieval spine some two years later when he wrote: “All in green went my love riding / on a great horse of gold / into the silver dawn” (CP 15). The shift from vague symbolist longing to the creation of a scene in indelible images is a measure of Cummings’ growth in these years. Kennedy writes: “Six well-scratched-up pages in his working notebook attest to the care which he devoted to this piece. When it was published in the Monthly [in March 1916], it met with praise from professors and fellow-students alike” (Dreams 83).

While some of the poems from this period not published in the Monthly exhibit similar Pre-Raphaelite or even Yeatsian diction (“The white rose of my soul / Is blown upon the ways” [CP 918]), others experiment with a rather tame free verse: “Moon-in-the-Trees / The old canoe awaits you. / He is not, as you know, afraid of the dark” (CP 921). This poem ends with Cummings reaching for a more personal extravagance: “In the nostrils of my nights / An incense of irrevocable mountains.” The sonnets written in appreciation for his friends and mentors Dory Miller, S. Foster Damon, J. Sibley Watson, and Scofield Thayer are often embarrassingly gushy. The one exception is Cummings’ attempt at humor in the poem dedicated to Watson (CP 927), but the wit is not well-controlled and falls flat.

However, Watson was at least partly responsible for a much more successful sonnet, “this is the garden:colours come and go,” (CP 144). In her memoir, Hildegarde Watson reports that in the summer of 1915, Cummings and her husband “motored to Rochester [N.Y.] to the Watson house, where Estlin wrote the now famous sonnet. . . . Mrs. Watson placed it in her guest book where, later, I came across it. It is arranged—and punctuated—differently from the published version; there is no “u” in “color,” and there are capitals at the beginning of each line!” (87). Here is the first stanza of this sonnet as transcribed by Hildegarde Watson:

This is the garden. Colors come and go:
Frail azures fluttering from night’s outer wing,
Strong silent greens serenely lingering,
Absolute lights like baths of golden snow.

The poem appears with the same punctuation and capitalization in Eight Harvard Poets (1917). When the sonnet was published in Tulips and Chimneys (1923), Cummings removed most capital letters, retaining only those in words that begin sentences, along with the two crucial capitals in the words “Death’s” and “They.” He also made two simple changes in punctuation in the first line—substituting a colon for the period after “garden” and a comma for the colon after “go”—adding more momentum to a line that nevertheless still lingers slightly.

In his role as one of the editors of The Monthly, Cummings was quite able to critique some of the excesses of Harvard aestheticism. Robert Hillyer remembered Cummings the editor: “Some aspirant handed in a poem that began with the line: ‘Thou hast faun eyes.’ Cummings’ comment took graphic form—a small horned deer with large and soulful eyes. On another poem he wrote, ‘Good but poor.’ This always seemed to me an excellent phrase, accurately descriptive of much that is published” (qtd. Norman 33). Much of Cummings’ Harvard poetry could be described the same way: “Good but poor.” However, even though “All in green” and “this is the garden” show that Cummings’ reading of Dante and Chaucer was helping to focus and discipline some of his belated romanticism, it was only after he received his MA in 1916 and left Harvard that he began to experiment with creating his own poems “for not ears but Eye.”


Michael Webster
Grand Valley State University

Works Cited

Cummings, E. E. Complete Poems, 1904-1962. Ed George J. Firmage. New York: Liveright, 1994.

—. “The New Art.” The Harvard Advocate 99.10 (June 24, 1915): 154-156. Rpt. in E. E. Cummings: A Miscellany Revised. Ed. George J. Firmage. New York: October House, 1965. 5-11.

—. Letter to Scofield Thayer. [July 1915?] Dial / Scofield Thayer Collection. Beinecke Library, Yale University. YCAL MS 34, Box 30, Folder 794.

Dempsey, James. The Tortured Life of Scofield Thayer. Gainesville: UP of Florida, 2014.

Firmage, George J. E. E. Cummings: A Bibliography. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan UP, 1960.

Huang-Tiller, Gillian. “A Note on George Firmage and E. E. Cummings’ Copy of Eight Harvard Poets.” Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society 14-15 (2006): 274-275.

Kennedy, Richard S. Dreams in the Mirror: A Biography of E. E. Cummings. New York: Liveright, 1980.

Norman, Charles. E. E. Cummings: The Magic-Maker. 3rd ed. Boston: Little, Brown, 1972.

Pound, Ezra. Ripostes of Ezra Pound: whereto are appended the complete poetical works of T. E. Hulme, with prefatory note. Boston: Small, Maynard, 1913. [Cummings’ copy of the book is now at the Harry Ransom Center.]

Sawyer-Lauçanno, Christopher. E. E. Cummings: A Biography. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2004.

Watson, Hildegarde Lasell. The Edge of the Woods: A Memoir. Lunenburg, VT: Stinehour Press, 1979.

Webster, Michael. “Cummings Rewrites Eliot.” T. S. Eliot, France, and the Mind of Europe. Ed. Jayme Stayer. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015. 75-91.

Cummings’ contributions to The Harvard Monthly in 1914:

—. “Nocturne.” The Harvard Monthly 58.1 (March 1914): 18-20. [“When the lithe moonlight silently” (CP 864-65)]

—. “Sonnet” The Harvard Monthly 58.3 (May 1914): 79. [“For that I have forgot the world these days” (CP 866)] [PDF 292]

—. “Night” The Harvard Monthly 59.2 (Nov. 1914): 69-70. [“Night, with sunset hauntings” (CP 867)]

—. “Out of the Bengali.” The Harvard Monthly 59.3 (Dec. 1914): 85. [“I spoke to thee with a smile”—rpt. as “Orientale” (CP 32)]

—. “Sonnet.” The Harvard Monthly 59.4 (Christmas 1914): 115. [“No sunset, but a grey, great, struggling sky” (CP 868)]

Cummings’ contributions to The Harvard Monthly in 1915:

—. “Longing.” The Harvard Monthly 60.2 (April 1915): 37-38. [“I miss you in the dawn, of gradual flowering lights” (CP 869-70)]

—. “Ballad of Love.” The Harvard Monthly 60.3 (May 1915): 91-92. [“Where is my love! I cried.” (CP 871)]

—. “The King.” The Harvard Monthly 60.5 (July 1915): 132-136. [Short story, not reprinted.]

—. “Ballade of the Soul.” The Harvard Monthly 60.5 (July 1915): 141-142. [“Not for the naked make I this my prayer” (CP 872)]

Contribution to The Harvard Advocate (1915):

—. “The New Art.” The Harvard Advocate 99.10 (June 24, 1915): 154-156. Rpt. E. E. Cummings: A Miscellany Revised. Ed. George J. Firmage. New York: October House, 1965. 5-11.


[1] Information on Cummings’ coursework at Harvard was gleaned from Kennedy 60-71 and Sawyer-Laucanno 59-62 and 76-79.

[2] LeBaron Russell Briggs (1855-1934), Dean of Men at Harvard and President of Radcliffe College from 1903 to 1923.

[3] See also Gillian Huang-Tiller’s “A Note on George Firmage and E. E. Cummings’ Copy of Eight Harvard Poets” in Spring 14-15, pp. 274-75.

[4] Sawyer-Lauçanno says that Damon showed Cummings the book in the fall of 1915 (72). Cummings’ copy of Ripostes, now at the Harry Ransom Center, is the 1913 American edition.

[5] Besides adding the first phrase, I have corrected Kennedy’s transcription by capitalizing “Eye.” The quote may be found in the Cummings papers at the Houghton Library, Harvard University, MS Am 1892.7 (90), “Notes for a nonexisting lecture (California),” folder 25, [labeled “Ezra”], sheet 258.

[6] Her full name was probably Doris Bryan. Perhaps the answer is found in these letters at the Houghton Library: MS 1892 (113) Bryan, Doris. 28 letters; 1915. No. 3, 9 & 10 with one photograph each; and MS 1892.1 (16) Bryan, Doris, recipient. 3 letters; [n.d.].

[7] Dial/Scofield Thayer Papers, Beinecke Library, Yale University, YCAL 34, box 30, folder 794. For the influence of T. S. Eliot on Cummings’ poetry, see my “Cummings Rewrites Eliot.”

Cummings’ *WARNING* from the Program of his Play


Playbill for the first production of Him at the Provincetown Playhouse, New York City, 1928.

Michael Webster recently uploaded an image of the program from the first production of Him to the Spring website.

Cummings often provides glimpses into the thinking behind his poetics in uncanny places, and here, we find a *WARNING* that points toward his thinking on play and how he hopes his audience will engage his work.

Though the warning is for his play, the advice seems very appropriate for new and seasoned readers of his poetry as well:  “Relax, and give this PLAY a chance to strut its stuff—relax, don’t worry because it’s not like something else—relax, stop wondering what it’s ‘about’—like many strange and familiar things, Life included, this PLAY isn’t ‘about,’ it simply is.”

In my work in Animal Studies, play emerges again and again, and it resonates with ontological innovation. The *WARNING* uses animal tropes (“pounce,” “creep”) to characterize the PLAY, which points yet again to this animalist perception in language, almost as if language itself has its own agency.

And so, I see this program as a gem-of-a-find as it gives us a glimpse into Cummings thoughts on play.



Cummings’ “WARNING” is reprinted in Charles Norman’s biography The Magic-Maker (222-223, see 3rd edition).

Kennedy quotes this bit from the “WARNING”: ”Relax and give the play a chance to strut its stuff—relax, stop wondering what it is all ‘about’—like many strange and familiar things, Life included, this Play isn’t ‘about,’ it simply is. . . . Don’t try to enjoy it, let it try to enjoy you. DON’T TRY TO UNDERSTAND IT, LET IT TRY TO UNDERSTAND YOU” (quoted in Kennedy, Dreams 295).

Kennedy, Richard S. Dreams in the Mirror: A Biography of E. E. Cummings. New York: Liveright, 1980.

Norman, Charles. The Magic-Maker: E. E. Cummings. 1st ed. New York: Macmillan, 1958.

—. E. E. Cummings: The Magic-Maker. Rev. ed. New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1964.

—. E. E. Cummings: The Magic-Maker. 3rd ed. Boston: Little, Brown, 1972.

See Spring for more information on Him



Aaron M. Moe, Ph.D.
Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame


“onetwothreefourfive” . . . “justlikethat”?; or, The Tension between the Performances of the Page and Body

IMG_20160114_132527118When Cummings reads “Buffalo Bill ’s” during a 1937 recording session through the Library of Congress (Funkhouser 221), he did not race through the famous line “and break onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat” (CP 90). It took him 4.2 seconds to read it (Funkhouser 223). Compellingly, when he reads it for the Caedmon recording in the 1950s, it took him even longer. I clock it at 6.2 seconds.

These two recordings suggest that the performance of the poem evolved over his career of reading it. I can’t track down the 1937 recording, but when he reads it in the 1950s, his voice modulates and the tempo fluctuates. He lingers on the “one” for a moment before falling, it seems, into the two and then accelerating into the “three” and on into the “four” and “five.” The numbers seem to pop, but they are not an isolated staccato; instead, a hum or a drone vibrates beneath the phrase, linking it all together. As he enters the “justlikethat,” the speed dramatically decreases, as if the speaker of the poem imagines the fragments of the shattered clay pigeons  floating to the ground. There are no silent pauses, but he lingers on each word while droning into the next, giving the feel of a “connected pause.”  EEC’s vocal performance creates an arc across the line that suggests an attentiveness to each number and each word. Not rushed. Not hurried. But a paradox of a precise and fluctuating rapidity yet marked by a sense of lingering.

To punctuate the line seems impossible as there are too many modulations and fluctuations of the gesture of speech, and though the non-spacing is no doubt innovative and brilliant, it seems out-of-step with EEC’s vocal performance. It fails, but it succeeds. (The tension between the body/page is similar to the tension between the movie/book. It may not be fair to use the categories of “failure” and “success,” for there are things one can do in either medium that cannot be accomplished in the other.)

When Cummings scholar Roi Tartakovsky learned of my interest in the pacing of “onetwothreefourfive,” he shared an interesting article by Linda Funkhouser. In it, Funkhouser discusses her findings of how literary professors and a control group of adults (who don’t read poetry) read “Buffalo Bill ’s” differently. Concerning the line “and break onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat,” Cummings read the slowest, taking 4.2 seconds in full at a rate of 2.9 syllables per second. The professors read the fastest, averaging 2.961 seconds in full at a rate of 4.1 syllables per second. The control group read slower than the professors but faster than Cummings at an average of 3.711 seconds in full at a rate of 3.2 syllables per second (221–23). Funkhouser points out, though, that Allen Ginsberg and Robert Creeley interpreted the pauses of each line break quite differently (227), as I am sure did each of the adults in the control group. (We will never all agree about the length of a pause). She concludes that “Cummings and the control group are not following the spacing cue of the run-together words” (235), which suggests that the professors “knew better” than Cummings and the nonspecialists.

But what if the run-together words signal a different cue? Or better, what if the performance of the body trumps the performance of the page?

Before proceeding, I emphasize that I am not arguing for only one way to read the poem. In other words, EEC does not provide, necessarily, the “right” way to read his poem (especially as his reading of it evolved). That is not what I am getting at; rather, his readings provide us with a glimpse into the tension surrounding the performance of the poetic page and the performing body. (These two performances are influenced by a third—Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show—but here I am concerned with the page/body tension. For more on Buffalo Bill’s performance, see Michael Webster’s recent post.)

In what follows, I give further context to grapple with the tension between the page and the body before returning to a discussion of “onetwothreefourfive. . . .”

EEC’s poetics are thoroughly informed by gesture. In the archives (and discussed in my book), Cummings argues “There is no such thing as the spoken word. To read is words. We speak a gesture.” He sees disembodied “words” to be the “antithesis to gesture, the IS . . . . ‘Words’ are like 2 x 6 or 3 x 4.” They can be reduced. He pushes his thought further by equating “the completeness of gesture” to a “prime number”: “A gesture is like 11 or 13” (bMS Am 1823.7 [25], folder 4, sheet 74; see also Moe 63–65).

And so, part of the richness of punctuation, for EEC, is that it, too, is a gesture, a prime number, as is the blank space (or lack thereof) surrounding text.

Michael Webster shared archival material with me that adds another layer to this discussion of (the absence of) punctuation. In a 2011 presentation at the Louisville Conference on Literature & Culture since 1900, he discusses a letter from 1916 Cummings wrote to Scofield Thayer concerning punctuation. Webster draws out how “Cummings . . . asserts he has ‘made real progress in The Work’ by ‘definitely’ denying himself ‘all punctuation.’” Webster observes how “this comment is startling, especially in light of his later inventive iconic use of all punctuation marks and his heavy reliance on parentheses” and he gives Cummings scholars a slight nudge: “This temporary punctuation embargo should make the Cummings scholars look yet again at certain early poems like ‘Buffalo Bill ’s’ that lack those characteristic marks” (Webster).

In looking again at “Buffalo Bill ’s” (which has that uncanny space between the “l” and the apostrophe in the first line)—we discover a rich tension between translating the performance of the vocal body into the performance of the poetic page. Like all translation, it fails (in order to succeed). It is approximate, especially because we are dealing with the “prime number” of gesture. Gestures are difficult to describe without becoming wordy in the same way that 11 or 13 can only be described by using more numbers (10 + 1 or 15 – 2), but the tension between the page and the body invites us to try to translate anyhow.

As we know, Cummings had a “Making obsession” (CP 221) that includes making things out of the materiality of language, out of paint and canvas, but also, I suggest, out of the performing body. I suggest that this making obsession drove him to refine and revise his reading of “Buffalo Bill ’s,” which, surprisingly, slowed down over time. Like Whitman, I see Cummings tending toward the origin of all poems found in the body and the body’s interaction with the elemental forces of the earth.  Such are the “prime numbers” his poetry gravitates toward.

I can only surmise, but I think Cummings, driven by the making obsession, was rarely satisfied.  I imagine him looking at “Buffalo Bill ’s” somewhat pleased, but, at the same time, unsatisfied, knowing that there exists other possibilities through which the gestures of speech can find a home in the gestures of the poetic page. Or perhaps he was content with the page’s performance, but wanted to push his vocal performance further. Perhaps it was his dissatisfaction that drove him to discover innumerable, vertiginous breakthroughs.

Though there is no one way to read the line, I argue, nonetheless, that the gestures of no-spaces-between-numbers may not be a cue to simply read rapidly. Perhaps, instead, they point toward a continuous moment punctuated by surprises of precise gun-fire. A moment that is its own whole, a moment that lingers much longer in the body’s performance, and a moment that found a new possibility, nonetheless, regarding what can happen in print.


Audio file from The Voice of the Poet, a re-release of the Caedmon recording from the 1950s.

For more on Cummings’ Audio, see Michael Webster’s recent post.


Aaron M. Moe
Assistant Professor, Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame


Works Cited

Cummings, E. E. Complete Poems, 1904-1962. Ed. George J. Firmage. New York: Liveright, 1991. Print.

Funkhouser, Linda Bradley. “Acoustical Rhythms in ‘Buffalo Bill’s.’” Journal of Modern Literature 7.2 (1979): 219. Print.

Moe, Aaron. Zoopoetics: Animals and the Making of Poetry. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2014. Print.

Webster, Michael. “Learning to Be Modernist: Some Cummings Letters to Scofield Thayer.” Louisville Conference on Literature & Culture since 1900. February 2011.

CFP ALA 2016 San Francisco

CFP: E. E. Cummings Sessions at American Literature Association’s 27th annual conference
(deadline 1/15/2016; San Francisco, CA, May 26-29, 2016)

The E. E. Cummings Society will sponsor two sessions at the 2016 ALA. We invite proposals for papers on any aspect of Cummings’ life or work. Proposals on the following topics will be especially welcome:

  • Formal qualities of Cummings’ poems and prose, including manuscript studies, and especially papers exploring Cummings’ punctuation (marks, patterns, icons) and his note on “imitative punctuation (picture, image) vs. grammatical punctuation (sentence, thought idea)” (qtd. in Cohen, PoetandPainter 95).
  • Reading Cummings: “people stare carefully” / “And if i sing you are my voice,” We welcome abstracts on all aspects of reading Cummings, both academic and performative. For example, one might read or perform a favorite (singable, difficult, lyrical, perhaps even unreadable-aloud) Cummings poem and then comment upon it.

Submit 250-400 word abstracts to Michael Webster ( by January 15, 2016.

For further information on the American Literature Association conference, please consult the ALA conference website at

Audio Cummings

It is perhaps not surprising that Cummings has been rather badly served by the corporate entity (Harper-Collins) that controls the rights to the LP recordings he made for Caedmon Records in the 1950s. As far as I know, the six vinyl LPs of the six nonlectures have never be re-released, with the exception of a very fleeting appearance on in the pre-Jeff Bezos era. The first Caedmon LP, E. E. Cummings Reading His Poetry (TC 1017), was made in the studio on May 28, 1953. In 2001, Harper Audio/Caedmon released a three-cassette collection called E. E. Cummings Reads: A Poetry Collection that brought together all the Caedmon recordings of Cummings reading his own poetry and prose. (This collection included the first 1953 Caedmon album, as well as two subsequent albums, released in 1975 and ’77 as E. E. Cummings Reads his Collected Poetry & Prose: 1920-1958 / TC 2080/2081.) Then in 2007, Harper Audio re-released the original 1953 Caedmon LP in CD format under the name The Essential E. E. Cummings. Both the cassette and CD collections are now out of print. (While the production and sound quality were good, Harper Audio released both collections just when their respective media were beginning to be outmoded.) The only bright spot in this rather dismal recent history of Cummings’ audio (un)availability is the 2005 CD “E. E. Cummings: The Voice of the Poet,” which contains a few never-published poem recordings and is still relatively available.

Audio Cummings has fared a bit better on the web. By far the best news for fans of spoken-word Cummings is a recent web release of an entire Cummings reading at the 92nd Street Y, recorded on October 20, 1949. This reading can found in at least three places on the web:

  • As part of the “75 at 75” series, in which 75 contemporary authors write about the audio of 75 readers from the past 75 years of the 92nd Street Y series. (Cummings’ reading features comments by A. L. Kennedy.)
  • On the 92nd Street Y feed on Sound Cloud;
  • And in a You Tube version.

By noting the timing of the reading of each poem, one can construct a track list.
92nd Street Y Cummings Reading (1949) Track List (timings are approximate):

30: Cummings says that he will read first from 1 x 1, “then a few from XAIPE, and then finally from 50 Poems.”

55: pity this busy monster,manunkind, (CP 554)

2:18: of all the blessings which to man (CP 544)

4:50: one’s not half two. It’s two are halves of one: (CP 556)

7:00: when god decided to invent (CP 566)

8:00: Hello is what a mirror says (CP 570)

9:10: nothing false and possible is love (CP 574)

11:00: except in your (CP 575)

13:00: all ignorance toboggans into know (CP 579)

14:53: rain or hail / sam (CP 548)

16:50: dying is fine)but Death (CP 604)

18:25: so many selves(so many fiends and gods (CP 609)

20:25: jake hates / all the girls(the (CP 619)

21:30: when serpents bargain for the right to squirm (CP 620)

22:58: who sharpens every dull (CP 624)

24:30: open his head,baby (CP 637)

25:30: this is a rubbish of human rind (CP 647)

27:00: who were so(dark of heart they might not speak (CP 640)

28:50: if(touched by love’s own secret)we,like homing (CP 659)

30:38: when faces called flowers float out of the ground (CP 665)

33:50: as freedom is a breakfastfood (CP 511)

36:50: you which could grin three smiles into a dead (CP 522)

38:55: anyone lived in a pretty how town (CP 515)

43:10: love is more thicker than forget (CP 530)

44:50: my father moved through dooms of love (CP 520)

51:41: Moderator (probably John Malcolm Brinnin) presents EEC with a “bon voyage gift” (probably some sort of briefcase), asking him to bring it back “positively bulging with lyrics.” As A. L. Kennedy notes, Cummings’ “open and delighted laughter” makes a nice conclusion to the reading.

There are at least three more samples on the web of Cummings reading his poems:

  1. After an introduction to Cummings’ life and work, one can hear him recite three poems as part of The Poetry Foundation’s “Essential American Poets” series of podcasts: Cummings reads “anyone lived in a pretty how town” (CP 515), “as freedom is a breakfastfood” (CP 511), and “love is more thicker than forget” (CP 530). This page notes that the poems were “recorded at the YMHA Poetry Center New York, NY in 1959.”
  1. The Poetry Archive presents Cummings reading two poems: “anyone lived in a pretty how town” (CP 515) and “ ‘next to of course god america i” (CP 267).
  1. On the UBU web, Cummings reads “that melancholy” (CP697) and “let’s,from some loud unworld’s most rightful wrong” (CP 745).

There are many more recordings out there of Cummings reading his prose and poetry that remain unavailable to the public. He gave so many readings in the 1950s that Richard S. Kennedy said that he had embarked on what was really “a new career” for him (448). Those interested in exploring further Cummings’ reading career should start with chapter 30 of Kennedy’s biography Dreams in the Mirror (445-458).


Michael Webster
Grand Valley State University



Work Cited:

Cummings, E. E. Complete Poems, 1904-1962. Ed George J. Firmage. New York: Liveright, 1994.

Kennedy, Richard S. Dreams in the Mirror: A Biography of E. E. Cummings. New York: Liveright, 1980.


Estlin Cummings, “Animal Emperor” and Wild West Impresario

Cummings_wildwest_detail_lgIn the News, Notes, & Correspondence section of Spring 19 (2012), we reported the recent discovery of a number of Cummings’ childhood drawings and letters, which are part of the Cummings-Clarke Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society. We quoted a portion of a news release from the Historical Society:

Among the writings found is a story about life on Joy Farm, his family’s retreat in New Hampshire, a 1907 report on “Our Visit to the Public Library,” and the 1914 poem “From a Newspaper.”  A sketch of a rhinoceros and soldier drawn about 1902 also includes several lines of text. Cummings writes, “THIS. RHINOCEROUS. IS. YOUNG. MARCHING BY. A. SOLDIER. He TELLS-TALES TO-HIM”. Keepsakes include a self-portrait entitled “Edward E. Cummings, the animal emperor, famous importer, trainer, and exhibitor of wild animals” and three penmanship exercise books from about 1902.  Other drawings and paintings include ink blots, watercolors, and sketches in pen and pencil of cowboys and Indians, boats, the “world’s tallest tower,” wild west shows, hunting expeditions, locomotives, zoos, circuses, elephants, and house plans. (165)

In his account of his trip to the Soviet Union, EIMI (1933), Cummings looks back with amusement at his childhood fantasy of being an “Animal Emperor.” The passage begins with a reminiscence about visiting the show of Frank Bostock, “The Animal / King” [note: WordPress allows for an approximation of the typography printed in EIMI. Please see printed publication of EIMI for more accurate quotation]:

. . . . My miracleprodigy father toted me there & we spent a stupendous day(tiny I rode an elephant)when we came home the family smelled us and wept . . . Then during years I was–not The Animal King,O no;that didn’t satisfy me:
The Animal Emperor
& I drew and drew pictures(& hundreds of pictures)and thousands & millions(of me)pictures,of myself(of 1 tall big high strong man with a mighty cap which always said(that. Which never said anything during years but that,just(during years)that only)” (EIMI 429/410)

Since the Historical Society news release mentions only one “Emperor” drawing, we may speculate that Cummings’ claim that he drew “thousands & millions” portraits of himself as an Animal Emperor is somewhat exaggerated. Indeed, a subsequent MHS blog post prints a photo of the soldier and rhinoceros drawing that makes no imperial claims. This post pointed me to a brief announcement of an exhibition of Cummings’ childhood creations with the curious title of “Estlin Cummings Wild West Show.” This page reproduces a poster in which the young Estlin Cummings portrays himself playing the role of a “tall big high strong” rifle-toting Buffalo Bill. The drawing on this page is of more than usual interest to those of us who are fans of one of Cummings’ most famous poems, “Buffalo Bill ’s” (CP 90). (For a larger photo of Cummings’ childhood “Wild West” poster, see Rebecca Onion’s post on, “E. E. Cummings’ Colorful Imaginative Childhood Drawings.” The poem may also be found online here.)

In her account of her early childhood (called When I Was a Little Girl) Cummings’ sister Elizabeth told how her brother conceived of his childhood art as play and performance:

[He] used to make different kinds of drawings, too, sometimes ones (a little like the ones in the funny papers) that he mounted on strips of cardboard to use with the “Magic Lantern.” They told stories about us, our animals, and all sorts of other things. (23)

An early sort of document or slide projector, the Magic Lantern allowed Cummings to make slide shows of his art and literally project his imaginative appropriation of the wild west show. His wild west poster seems clearly influenced by at least two other posters, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, Col. W.F. Cody (1890), by British artist Alick P. F. Ritchie, and I Am Coming (Courier Lithography, 1900). Ritchie’s composite portrait, with its hat made of a lariat and a teepee, eyebrows of belts, snowshoe moustaches, and buffalo head goatee, is clearly echoed in Cummings’ poster, especially the buffalo head at the bottom of the golden circle drawn around Estlin/Bill. (Notice that the “T” in “ESTLIN” pierces the buffalo’s goatee.)

EEC Blog

While it may seem unlikely that the young Cummings, born in 1894, would have seen a British poster from 1890, we should remember that in the years 1888-1890, Cummings’ father Edward was abroad finishing his graduate work in sociology, “making a comparative study of the social and economic conditions of workers in Italy, Germany, France, and Great Britain” (Kennedy, “Father” 440). In addition, Cummings’ godfather, J. Estlin Carpenter, a British Unitarian minister and theologian, corresponded extensively with Edward Cummings from 1889 to 1925), and easily could have sent the poster as a present to his godson. (See the Guide to the Collection to the Cummings-Clarke Family Papers.)

Although the golden circle enclosing the presence of the hero/saint may ultimately derive from Christian iconography, the young Cummings probably filched it from the many depictions of Buffalo Bill’s determined and beatific head inside a circle-halo, a motif that appears most prominently in the I Am Coming poster. The religious connotations of the second coming of Christ cannot be ignored in this poster, though young Estlin may have been unaware of them. (We should remember, however, that Cummings went every Sunday to hear his Unitarian minister father preach.) Certainly the I Am Coming poster helps us see that the word “Jesus” in the poem is more than an exclamation of astonishment—it also points to the sainted nature of Cummings’ hero, who, aside from the cowboy hat, mustache, and goatee, looks quite like conventional representations of Christ. In contrast, the halo in Cummings’ childhood drawing, surrounds a manly hero at ease with his rifle, confident in his abilities as marksman and emperor of animals and men. (This pose derives from depictions of Buffalo Bill’s early life as a scout and buffalo hunter like this one from 1870.)

With its depiction of the gun and animal heads, Cummings’ childhood poster emphasizes (perhaps unconsciously) Estlin/Bill’s power of life and death over animals, while the poem emphasizes Buffalo Bill’s incredible marksmanship (despite the reader’s initial uncertainty as to whether the “pigeons” are animals or clay targets). But the childhood poster exists in the realm of play—for example, while Cummings’ father hunted and mounted trophies of his kills, young Estlin never seems to have participated in these hunting expeditions. [Kennedy reports that even the father ceased his killing at some point when Cummings’ mother made him “exchange his gun for a camera” (Dreams 21).] B_Bill_horse_3_pigeon_1907a higher resolutionThough the young Estlin admired the power of someone who could tame and kill animals, the speaker of the poem admires skill and showmanship rather than power. We can see evidence of that skill in an extraordinary publicity photo that shows Buffalo Bill shooting a clay pigeon out of the air while riding his “watersmooth-silver/ stallion.” If we look closely at the Native American riding beside Buffalo Bill, we can see a bag on the pommel of his horse’s saddle. The draft of the poem tells us that this bag held the “pidgens / one two / three four five / tossed by / an indian”—or alternatively, “by a Comanche brave” (see Kidder 378, 382-83). (The white horse’s name, the New York Times obituary tells us, was Isham, “which the Colonel always rode at the exhibition of his rough riders.”)

Cummings never wrote an essay on Buffalo Bill, but in the mid-twenties, he did write two humorous pieces for Vanity Fair on closely-related popular entertainments, the circus and Coney Island. [In fact from 1913 to 1916, the cash-strapped Buffalo Bill did perform “as an attraction with other shows” (Fees). Cummings’ sister Elizabeth ends her account of childhood visits to the circus by telling how Buffalo Bill rode into the tent and “did amazing shooting tricks” (39).] In both “The Adult, the Artist and the Circus” and “Coney Island,” visiting these popular spectacles is seen in Freudian terms as a return to what might be termed the childhood unconscious—and as a clear threat to the adult personality. Indeed, Cummings writes that “at the very thought of ‘circus,’ a swarm of long-imprisoned desires breaks jail. Armed with beauty and demanding justice and everywhere threatening us with curiosity and Spring and childhood, this mob of forgotten wishes begins to storm the supposedly impregnable fortifications of our Present” (“Adult” 109). This restorative childhood id is presented as a panacea for modern anxieties, a sure bet to lessen the crime rate and to keep the artistic class from committing suicide (“Coney” 149). The circus essay even contends that “a periodic and highly concentrated dose of wild animals . . . is indispensable to the happiness of all mature civilized human beings.” Requiring adults to visit the animals at the circus would close down insane asylums, heal the “lame, halt and blind,” and put “millions of psychoanalysts” out of work (111).

If the childhood poster shows young Estlin identifying with a hero and master showman, in the 1917 poem their relationship is more fraught with Freudian contention. Critics like Thomas Dilworth have seen the poem as depicting childhood hero-worship being supplanted by rhetorical mastery over a symbolic father figure. Dilworth writes that “the question ‘how do you like your blueeyed boy’ sarcastically belittles Buffalo Bill and conveys the speaker’s sense of superiority over him” (174). Furthermore, “Buffalo Bill once rode a silver stallion, and his supremacy over the impressive animal signified his stature. Now the speaker rhetorically rides Buffalo Bill, verbally elevating himself and performing at Buffalo Bill’s expense” (175). Etienne Terblanche sees the stallion somewhat differently. While he agrees with Dilworth that the poem severely diminishes Buffalo Bill’s hero status, Terblanche argues that far from riding Buffalo Bill, the speaker identifies with the real hero of the poem, the lower-case stallion, who “is lyrical, flowing, and aquatic . . . unlike the clipped and mechanistic features associated with the three apparent heroes,” the capitalized Buffalo Bill, Jesus and Mister Death (306). Surely the lower case i speaker, Terblanche argues, would identify “with this lowercase protagonist . . . who is a hero precisely by being a nonhero” (306).

We know from quite a few other Cummings poems that he identified strongly with animals. [For two examples, see “r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r” (CP 396) and “i / never” (CP 820).] And it is not only animals that the poet identifies with. As I wrote in a recent paper, “the lower case ‘i’ persona finds . . . its selves in and through the many selves . . . of animals (a grasshopper, a hummingbird), trees, leaves, twilight, stars, the moon, and even certain buildings” (“Cummings” 499). It would seem from this reading that Cummings’ childhood fantasies of becoming a Buffalo Bill-like “Animal Emperor” gave way to a more modest lower-case urge to identify with nature and deprecate the upper-case buffalo hunter. However, readers of the poem know that the mocking of Buffalo Bill exists side by side with admiration for his skill. And even in his “Animal Emperor” phase, the young Estlin could identify with the animal while at the same time asserting supremacy over his “miracleprodigy” father. Kennedy relates an anecdote in which the young blue-eyed boy took on the father role by identifying with the animal:

Estlin had a singular liking for elephants, which he came to associate with his father (who carried him about, who had big ears). Drawing pictures of elephants became a repeated pastime. At length, the situation became reversed in the role-playing with his father, so that Estlin became in imagination Kipling’s elephant Kala Nag, and his father became little Tomai, the elephant boy who took care of him. “Take me with you, O Kala Nag,” his father would say at bedtime. (Dreams 32)

After the passage in EIMI in which Cummings remembers his “Animal Emperor” phase, he goes on to reminisce about the “Death Defying” dangers faced by loop-the-loop cyclist Diavolo, and even mentions Buffalo Bill. His interior monologue turns towards death: “(a graveyard ‘New York’ &)what fire-flies among such gravestones(afterwards mai and the chevaux de bois & death)” (430/411). I will skip over some coded references here to Cummings’ divorce from his first wife so as not to stray from the point. Which is: the passage immediately turns from death to rebirth:

we have arisen,who were dead ; having died we are as only Animal Emperors of the imagination shall be(and as only poets arise : again possibly to die,impossibly again & even out of hell ascending who shall keep our circus hearts against all fear). (EIMI 430/411)

The “hell” mentioned here is the Soviet Union, governed by fear. In this passage, I think “Animal Emperors” are not human emperors of animals, but rather, childlike humans who, in becoming one with animals, become emperors of the imagination. The poetic imagination and the authentic self are reborn through the childhood unconscious of the “circus heart.”[1]



Michael Webster

Grand Valley State University



Works Cited

Col. Wm. F. Cody, ‘Buffalo Bill,’ Dead.” New York Times (11 Jan. 1917). Web.

Cummings-Clarke Family Papers, 1793-1949: Guide to the Collection.” Massachusetts Historical Society Call Number Ms. N-1058. Web.

The Cummings-Clarke Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society.” Spring 19 (2012): 164-165. Print and Web.

Cummings, E. E. “The Adult, the Artist and the Circus.” Vanity Fair (October 1925). Rpt. E. E. Cummings: A Miscellany Revised. Ed. George J. Firmage. New York: October House, 1965. 109-114.

—. “Coney Island.” Vanity Fair (June 1926). Rpt. E. E. Cummings: A Miscellany Revised. Ed. George J. Firmage. New York: October House, 1965. 149-153.

—. EIMI. New York: Covici, Friede, 1933. Reprinted. New York: William Sloane, 1949. Reprinted with an introduction by EEC, New York: Grove Press, 1958.

—. EIMI: A Journey Through Soviet Russia. 1933. Ed. George James Firmage. New York: Liveright, 2007.

Dilworth, Thomas. “Cummings’s ‘Buffalo Bill ’s’.” Explicator 53.3 (Spring 1995): 174-175.

Discovery of Early E. E. Cummings Works at the Massachusetts Historical Society.” MHS News Massachusetts Historical Society, 8 November, 2012. Web.

Estlin Cummings Wild West Show.” Massachusetts Historical Society July 2013. Web.   (with photo of drawing of same)

Fees, Paul. “William Frederick Cody.” Buffalo Bill Center of the West 2015. Web. Accessed 29 July 2015.

Kennedy, Richard S. Dreams in the Mirror: A Biography of E. E. Cummings. New York: Liveright, 1980.

—. “Edward Cummings, the Father of the Poet.” Bulletin of the New York Public Library 70 (1966): 437-449.

Kidder, Rushworth M. “ ‘Buffalo Bill ‘s’: An Early E. E. Cummings Manuscript” Harvard Library Bulletin 24.4 (October 1976): 373-383.

Lowell, Laura. “A Rhinoceros Tells Tales to a Soldier: The Childhood Imaginings of E. E. Cummings.” Object of the Month Massachusetts Historical Society, July 2013. Web.   (with photo of drawing of a soldier and a rhino)

Onion, Rebecca. “E. E. Cummings’ Colorful, Imaginative Childhood Drawings.” The Vault: Historical Treasures, Oddities, and Delights, 17 June 2013. Web.

Qualey, Elizabeth Cummings. When I Was a Little Girl. Ed. Carlton C. Qualey. Center Ossipee, NH: Carroll County Independent, 1981.

Ray, David. “The Irony of E. E. Cummings.” College English 23.4 (Jan. 1962): 282, 287-290. [Ray sees “Buffalo Bill ’s” as “an assault on everything held dear by a sentimentalist or a hero-worshipper” (289).]

Terblanche, Etienne. “Is There a Hero in this Poem? E. E. Cummings’s ‘Buffalo Bill ’s / defunct’.” The Explicator 70.4 (Dec. 2012): 304-307.

Webster, Michael. “Lugete: The Divine Lost and Found Child in Cummings.” Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society 19 (2012): 37-49.

—. “E. E. Cummings.” A Companion to Modernist Poetry. Ed. David Chinitz and Gail McDonald. Chichester, U.K. / Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2014. 494-504.



[1] For more on Cummings’ view of the child as the source of rebirth and creativity, see my “Lugete: The Divine Lost and Found Child in Cummings.”

Call for Papers: Louisville Conference, February 2016

The Modernist Muse: Visual Culture and E.E. Cummings’ Aesthetics (deadline 9/10/15; Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture since 1900, February 18-20, 2016)

The E. E. Cummings Society and the Society’s journal, Spring, invites abstracts for 20-minute papers for the 44th annual Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture since 1900, February 18-20, 2016, at the University of Louisville ( This session explores dimensions of Cummings’ modernist aesthetics through aural, visual, and verbal media as a response to the visual culture of the twentieth century. To what extent is Cummings’ radicalism in language, genre, poetic devices, and typography motivated by the new avant-garde art? To what extent is Cummings’ modernist muse motivated by his contemporaries and little magazines? To what extent is Cummingsism (organicism or animism) a reaction to visual culture, such as clichés, advertisements, and propaganda? And to what extent is Cummingsism understood or misunderstood by his time? We invite abstracts that explore Cummings’ beginnings (his development, influences) for thematic and aesthetic provocations, as well as critical reactions to Cummings’ radicalism that have shaped and reshaped modern and contemporary perceptions of Cummings the poet, painter, essayist, novelist and playwright.

Please send 300-word abstracts (double-spaced and titled) and a brief bio by September 10, 2015 to Gillian Huang-Tiller at:

An Old Door, Cummings’ Personal Printer, and W [ViVa]

Title Page

Title Page

An online exhibit at the Harry Ransom Center Library in Austin, Texas, catalogues the signatures on a door that used to be in the Greenwich Village Bookshop, circa 1920-1924. The signature page of S. A. Jacobs, Cummings’ personal typesetter, reproduces a July 16, 1931 letter from Jacobs to Cummings about printing the title page of ViVa. Those patient enough to figure out how the slide show on this page works will be rewarded with a photo of the letter from Jacobs to Cummings and with the photo of the title page of W [ViVa] reproduced here (click on either image to view more closely). Jacobs’ letter complains bitterly of the difficulty in getting this title page to look right: “the photo engraver has failed me utterly: for three times in succession he made the reversed plate of VV wrong–not as ordered by you or me or [with] any sign of intelligence in himself. . . . I am rejecting the work as not  satisfactory.” (The writing in pencil at the top of the letter is Cummings’ draft of a telegram responding to Jacobs.)



The curious title of this collection of poems, W, represents two overlapping V’s, which refer to “a graffito commonly found on southern European walls, meaning ‘long live,’ as in ‘Viva Napoli’ or ‘Viva Presidente Wilson’ “ (Kennedy, Revisited 76). In critical and in ordinary discourse, the title is pronounced “Viva” and is written as “ViVa”–with two capital V’s. When both titles are used, the pronounceable title is written in brackets: [ViVa]. In her article “The Modernist Sonnet and the Pre-Postmodern Consciousness,” Gillian Huang-Tiller notes that the VV slogan “probably stems from ‘Viva V.E.R.D.I.‘ or Viva Vittorio Emanuele Re D’Italia, [Long live Victor Emanuel, King of Italy], slogan for patriotic Italians of the nineteenth century” (170).

In Dreams in the Mirror, Richard S. Kennedy says that ViVa “contains seventy poems; every seventh poem is a sonnet, except that the last seven poems are all sonnets” (319). This description is in general quite correct, but, as Huang-Tiller points out, Kennedy then makes an interesting and perhaps productive error. He writes: “That makes a total of fourteen sonnets, corresponding to the fourteen-line stanza of the sonnet” (Dreams 319). Actually, as Huang-Tiller astutely notes, “the  structure  of  the  collection  is  not  a  neat 7 + 7—there are nine embedded  sonnets, not  seven.” She further comments: “Kennedy apparently follows what his experience of the sonnet tells him should be in the text, rather than what is really in the text” (164). So the order of the poems in the text follows this mathematical pattern: 6 – 1 – 6 – 1 – 6 – 1 – 6 – 1 – 6 -1 – 6 – 1 – 6 – 1 – 6 – 1 – 6 – 1 – 7 = 70 poems. Or: 7 x 9 = 63 + 7 = 70.

What might this not-quite-sonnet pattern of sonnets tell us about Cummings’ intentions? Huang-Tiller speculates that perhaps “Cummings has another design in mind, as the nine embedded sonnets (each the seventh poem) along with the final set of seven sonnets could signal a perfect ten: 9 sonnets + 1 set = 10” (164). In the afterword to his translation of No Thanks, Jacques Demarcq sees ViVa as having a structure of ten weeks, “six poèmes et le dimanche un sonnet” [six poems and the Sunday of a sonnet] (“Un tournant” 112). This would make the final seven sonnets of ViVa a week of Sundays. In EIMI (published two years after ViVa), Cummings tells us that he was born on a Sunday (91/89), and several commentators have noticed that EIMI begins and ends on a Sunday (May 10 and June 14). Each chapter narrates one day, so the chapters follow a pattern similar to the one in ViVa, except that the implied days of the week metaphor is made explicit. EIMI has six Sundays with six days between each of them, making a total of five weeks and 36 days. [See EIMI note 91 / 89.]

Jacobs’ letter to Cummings and the mathematical patterning of poems and chapters in ViVa and EIMI show the immense care Cummings took with his work, both on the macro- (book) and micro- (individual poem and letter) levels. The macro-level patterns of ViVa and EIMI show something else, I think: a concern to give every part of his work significance. For example, the sonnets in ViVa are mostly love poems. Love and Sunday, then, represent birth and rebirth. The connection to rebirth is made clear in EIMI when Cummings mentions the Russian word for Sunday, “voskresaynyeh” (91/89), which means “resurrection.”


For more on Jacobs and Cummings, see Walker Rumble’s short piece “Reclaiming S. A. Jacobs: Polytype, Golden Eagle, and Typographic Modernism” as well as Rumble’s recent article from SpringThe Persian Typesetter: S. A. Jacobs, E. E. Cummings, and the Golden Eagle Press.”



Michael Webster
Grand Valley State University


Works Cited

Cummings, E. E. EIMI. New York: Covici, Friede, 1933. Reprinted. New York: William Sloane, 1949. Reprinted with an introduction by EEC, New York: Grove Press, 1958.

—. EIMI: A Journey Through Soviet Russia. 1933. Ed. George James Firmage. New York: Liveright, 2007.

Demarcq, Jacques. “Un tournant” [Afterword]. No Thanks. By E. E. Cummings. Trans. Jacques Demarcq. Caen, France: Nous, 2011. 97-137.

Huang-Tiller, Gillian. “The Modernist Sonnet and the Pre-Postmodern Consciousness: The Question of Meta-Genre in E. E. Cummings’ W [ViVa] (1931).” Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society 14-15 (2006): 156-177.

Kennedy, Richard S. Dreams in the Mirror: A Biography of E. E. Cummings. New York: Liveright, 1980.

—. E. E. Cummings Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1994. [Twayne’s United States Authors Series No. 637.]

Webster, Michael. “EIMI Notes.” SPRING: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society. Web.


love are in we

Heart IIAmong the myriad of textual operations E. E. Cummings performs so masterfully on every single imaginable level of language, a particularly elegant one is changing the word order of an otherwise “normal” sentence or phrase. Of course Cummings is not the first poet to take liberties with word order, but, as Norman Friedman remarked already in 1960, Cummings’s “distortion of the normal sequence of a sentence goes far beyond mere poetic inversion” (108). Linguist Irene Fairley, in a book devoted to Cummings’s ungrammaticality, deals extensively with his various “dislocations” or scramblings. And Richard Cureton cites scrambling of normal word order as “one of Cummings’s favorite iconic strategies,” iconic because it can convey “thematic disorder” (196).

Just taking one word out of its place and repositioning it within a sentence can have a dramatic effect, though in the best cases it is dramatic only in as much as it is subtle. The “original” unscrambled sentence is evoked, and the scrambled version does not so much conflict with it, but rather opens up new semantic possibilities. It also opens up the very possibility of reading new possibilities. In that sense Cummings celebrates not just a new order or a re-ordering, but the potential of dis-ordering an existing order.

I’d like to demonstrate the possibilities of this operation using one simple example, taken from the poem “the great advantage of being alive” (CP 664), a poem that celebrates loving and living, indeed loving-as-living. The poem is worth reading in its entirety, of course, but here I just want to focus on the locution “love are in we,” which recurs five times in the poem. To arrive at “love are in we,” we may surmise, Cummings switched the first and last words of the familiar and grammatical “we are in love,” a locution that is also found in the poem, in the second stanza:

we are in love (conventional order)

love are in we  (scrambled version)

What are some of the advantages, then, of “love are in we” over “we are in love”?

  1. First, perceptual freshness. This is always important to Cummings, but it is particularly important here because “we are in love” is so often used in everyday discourse that it is in real danger of being trite. Switching its words around invites us to stop and rethink each of the words that make up this string of words, rather than take it as a whole, which runs the risk of barely taking it at all.
  2. When we attempt to make sense of this fresh sentence, we note that “love” is positioned now as its subject. “We” is no longer the subject; the sentence is not about us (and even less about “me,” as in “I am in love” or “I love you”), but about love itself. Love is elevated syntactically to the position of subject, and this elevation is part of the way the poem celebrates love.
  3. Since the verb following “love” is “are,” we may be encouraged to understand the noun love as plural, suggesting that it is not a single thing but a plurality of possibilities, matching the plurality of “we.” This further freshens and elevates love.
  4. While “love” seems to be the subject, “we” is of course also a subject pronoun, and so maintains something of the subject status it had enjoyed in the original sentence (compare to the theoretical, and grammatically more correct “love are in us”). This new formulation thus cleverly keeps both “love” and “we” as potential subjects, and reinforces the relation, even equation, between “we” and “love.”
  5. Finally, ending with “we” leaves the sequence “love are in we” open-ended, amenable to receiving additions. Cummings uses this openness later in the poem when he adds to it and writes “love are in we am in i are in you.” In this well wrought sequence of words “we” doubles as both the ending of “love are in we” and the opening of “we am in i,” and the same is true of “i”:


love are in we am in i are in you =

love are in we

we am in i

i are in you

Cummings ends the poem with another variation, switching “you” and “we” to get: “love are in you am in i are in we.”[1] In these two longer strings, it is the intertwining of pronouns (you, I, we), and verbs (are, am), all (dis)organizing under the sign of love, which is foregrounded.

So, how can one still say, and say freshly and meaningfully, “we are in love”? Cummings shows us that by an alteration of word order, we can say that, and so much more, but differently.



Roi Tartakovsky

New York University



[1] Fairley analyzes the poem’s last line as an example of “repetition that involves the compounding of parallel sentences,” so that her reconstructed reading yields: You are in love; I am in love; We are in love.” Though I reconstruct the sentence differently, I am in complete agreement with Fairley when she writes that a secondary interpretation embedded in the sequence is for love is in us, and that the overall result “is a much more memorable statement than the standard ‘We are in love’” (32).


Works Cited

Cummings, E. E. Complete Poems 1904-1962. Ed. George J. Firmage. New York: Liveright, 1991. Print.

Cureton, Richard D. “E. E. Cummings: A Case of Iconic Syntax.” Language and Style 14.3 (1981): 183-215. Print.

Fairley, Irene R. E. E. Cummings and Ungrammar: A Study of Syntactic Deviance in His Poems. New York: Watermill Publishers, 1975. Print.

Friedman, Norman. E.E. Cummings: The Art of His Poetry. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1960. Print.



“Each Age a Lens”: Cummings and Ecopoetics

The Poets light but Lamps –
Themselves – go out-
The Wicks they stimulate
If vital Light
Inhere as do the Suns –
Each Age a Lens
Disseminating their
Circumference – 
Emily Dickinson

(available on Poetry Foundation)

In the 1930s, not all readers knew what to do with Cummings, let alone appreciate the “vital Light” of his poems. In 1931 for instance, R. P. Blackmur compared Cummings’ innovations to nothing more than “baby talk” (340). Ironically, Blackmur’s scathing essay on Cummings ended up in his book titled Language as Gesture (published 1952)—he just did not see the ways in which Cummings’ poems gesture in all of their materiality. Nor did he revise his stance over the course of 20 years of thought.

However, Blackmur did recognize that future readers may value Cummings’ work more than he:

Excessive hyphenation of single words, the use of lower case “i,” the breaking of lines, the insertion of punctuation between the letters of a word, and so on, will have a possible critical importance to the textual scholarship of the future; but extensive consideration of these peculiarities today has very little importance, carries almost no reference to the meaning of the poems. (320, italics added)

Now that we are in that future age, Cummings, so it seems, may hold a crucial place in ecocritical scholarship.

A growing number of Cummings scholars see this age of ecopoetics to be the lens that gives us traction in Cummings’ most avant-garde moments. The challenge, though, for many of us Cummings people is to write and teach in such a way so as to invite readers into the shapeshifting acrobatics of Cummings’ ecopoetics.

In order to invite readers into the world of happenings in Cummings’ poems, I draw on Scott Knickerbocker’s 2012 Ecopoetics: The Language of Nature, The Nature of Language. Amongst the emergent definitions of ecopoetics, Knickerbocker’s concept of sensuous poiesis helps pinpoint the dynamic in Cummings’ craft: “the process of rematerializing language specifically as a response to nonhuman nature” (2). Knickerbocker provides an in-depth exploration of the sensuous poiesis of four poets, thereby leaving room for other readers to explore the dynamic elsewhere.

Though a hearty claim, I suggest that no other American poet so thoroughly “rematerialized language in response to nonhuman nature” than Cummings. His poems shapeshift into rain, moons, grasshoppers, cats, leaves, snowflakes, bees, stars, air, hummingbirds, seedlings, and many more species and forces in the more-than-human life environing us.

Precisely the same dynamic that made Cummings unreadable to Blackmur opens up infinite possibilities for a textual scholarship attuned to the materiality of language and its dynamic relationship to the earth.

To illustrate and substantiate these claims would take much more space than a blog post, but lively discussions are taking place formally and informally as we unleash at the vital light of Cummings’ poems that inheres as do the suns when a community of readers disseminate its circumference.

The starting place, though, is recognizing how Cummings’ poetics undergo a thorough rematerialization of language. This rematerialization has and continues to alienate some readers (like Blackmur), but during today’s turn to new materialisms and ecopoetics, Cummings seems to have found a home.



Aaron M. Moe

Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame


Works Cited

Blackmur, R. P. Language as Gesture: Essays in Poetry. New York: Harcourt  Brace & Company, 1952. Print.

Cummings, E. E. Complete Poems, 1904-1962. Ed. George J. Firmage. New York: Liveright, 1991. Print.

Knickerbocker, Scott. Ecopoetics: The Language of Nature, the Nature of Language. U of Massachusetts P, 2012. Print.

CFP for ALA Conference | Boston, MA | May 21-24, 2015

E. E. Cummings Sessions at American Literature Association’s 26th annual conference at the Westin Copley Place in Boston, MA on May 21-24, 2015

Deadline January 25, 2015

The E. E. Cummings Society will co-sponsor one collaborative panel with the John Dos Passos Society at the American Literature Association conference in Boston on May 21-24, 2015. In addition, the Cummings Society will sponsor one to two sessions on E. E. Cummings.

Intersections of E.E. Cummings and John Dos Passos

This collaborative panel invites varied approaches to examining the intersections between E.E. Cummings and John Dos Passos. Their careers overlap and in striking ways: both authors went to Harvard, were visual artists, wrote experimental dramas, served in ambulance services during World War I, endured the horrors of warfare and the censorship of the government, and engaged in the activism of the radical political environment of the early 20th century and the resulting hardships of the literary marketplace. In the 1930s, Cummings and Dos Passos both visited the Soviet Union and wrote about their experiences and impressions of the culture, and both experienced drastic shifts in political beliefs during that period.

We welcome submissions related to form and genre, modernism and modernity, war, gender and sexuality, transnationalism, print culture, archival study, politics, activist writing, and related topics. Collaborative papers and pedagogical approaches are also welcome.

300-500 word abstracts and a brief CV to Victoria Bryan, President of the John Dos Passos Society ( and Michael Webster, President of the E.E. Cummings Society ( by January 25, 2015.

E. E. Cummings Sessions Honoring Norman Friedman

In memory of the first and finest Cummings scholar, Norman Friedman (1925-2014), we encourage everyone to relate their proposals and papers in some way to Norman’s work. (A Norman Friedman bibliography may be found here.) We invite proposals for papers on any aspect of Cummings’ life or work. Proposals on topics that Norman pioneered will be especially welcome:

  • Formal qualities of Cummings’ poems and prose, including manuscript studies
  • Cummings’ reputation in the academy and beyond
  • Teaching Cummings
  • The maturity of Cummings’ childlike vision
  • Cummings’ transcendental vision and its Asian and New England sources.
  • Psychological aspects of Cummings’ life and work

Submit 250-400 word abstracts to Michael Webster ( by January 25, 2015.

For further information on the American Literature Association conference, please consult the ALA conference website at

Shatter a Mirror: Teaching EEC in a Survey Course

20141114_123534Sometimes, to teach a poem, you just have to go outside and shatter a mirror. For Cummings, shattered mirrors, and shattered language, are not unlucky. Far from it. More on this in a moment.

Teaching a survey of American literature has its pros and cons, to be sure. In order to provide a survey of the literature from 1865-1945, one ends up spending only a day on T.S. Eliot—and maybe only half-a-day on Gertrude Stein—in order to allow the space and time for novels and short stories (and perhaps one play). Most modernist writers are difficult, and even the “more accessible” writers like Robert Frost have their own “vast chaos” that ought to be explored (12). It is beyond challenging to do justice to the difficult poetry and poetics throughout modernism, and EEC is no different.

Unfortunately, Cummings often gets pushed aside. Anthologies may include only one (or two) of his more avant-garde pieces because of their strangeness, their difficulty, and the sense of WTF do we do with that? The Norton anthology I use includes only some of his “more accessible” experiments like “Buffalo Bill’s” which is a marvelous poem, but it does not quite demonstrate the way that Cummings brings to fruition the modernist principle of fragmentation. The selection of poems in an anthology often do not give students a chance to venture into Cummings’ difficult poetics, and as a result, his work is often overlooked or dismissed.

This year, I decided to end our unit of Modernist poets with Cummings. As we explored Stein, Eliot, Williams, Stevens, I intentionally foregrounded their statements about what modern poetry is all about—especially the statements that had to do with words breaking apart (Eliot), and the poem being a new stage (Stevens), and the need to undergo a complete recasting of poetic structure (Williams) and so forth (for details and citations, see EEC—A Major Modernist Poet?).

And then, in the last ten minutes of the class before our day on Cummings, we went outside and shattered a mirror. I placed a mirror in a box, and then placed a rock over it. For safety, we taped the box shut. This way, no one gets injured and no one sees their face in the mirror the moment that it shatters. I suggest to students that it is only unlucky to break a mirror if you actually see your face in the mirror the moment it breaks, because then you see your reflection shatter, and that could give you bad luck for seven years.

Outside, a brave volunteer, who vows not to sue me if she gets bad luck anyway, picks the box up and drops it. Then we open it up, and see each fragment, and read “pieces(in darker” (CP 623). Here, Cummings wonders why people think it is “un / lucky” to shatter a mirror, for each piece, each fragment, is “whole with sky” (CP 623).

I encourage students, then, as they read Cummings’ more difficult poems, to pay attention to the ways that the fragments are whole with their own poem, so to speak. To use Etienne Terblanche’s phrase, each fragment becomes its own “micro-ideogram” (Terblanche 73)—full of a wild semiosis.

William Blake’s “Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand” helps draw out the implications of Cummings’ use of fragmentation. The fragments become their own “sky” full of infinite potential. Instead of having “one sky,” we now, through the fragments, have multiple skies and multiple infinities. How? The fragments often generate several semiotic possibilities not only through connotations but also through their material gestures on the page.

I assure students that I know they can “get” the metaphor of “shattered language” and “shattered mirror” without going outside and seeing it in action, but there is something existential and phenomenological about actually experiencing the metaphor. Seeing the sky reflected in several fragments is uncanny and refreshing.

The exercise not only gives students traction as they venture into the difficult world of EEC, but it also serves to bring our discussion of fragmentation in Modernist poetry to full fruition. It shows that EEC is not an anomaly, or a break, from modernism, but much the opposite. He is the one who brings the principle of fragmentation to fullest fruition.


Aaron M. Moe

Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame



Works Cited

Cummings, E. E. Complete Poems, 1904-1962. Ed. George J. Firmage. New York: Liveright, 1991. Print.

Frost, Robert. “The Figure a Poem Makes.” Twentieth-Century American Poetics:  Poets on the Art of Poetry. Ed. Dana Gioia, Meg Schoerke, and David Mason. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2004. 11–12. Print.

Terblanche, Etienne. E. E. Cummings: Poetry and Ecology. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2012. Print.

Cummings Centennials (1913)

Brancusi's "Mademoiselle Pogany"

Brancusi’s “Mademoiselle Pogany”

This rather belated post begins a series that will mark the events in Cummings’ life one hundred years ago. (The post for 1914 is forthcoming.) In 1913, the young (18-19 years old) E. E. Cummings finished his sophomore year and began his junior year at Harvard College. The young poet was still living at home, commuting to school by making the short walk from 104 Irving Street to Harvard Yard. In the spring semester, he was finishing up the second year Greek course and Latin B. Cummings’ Greek professor, C. P. Parker, was so impressed with his student’s translation of the first choral ode in Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus that he mailed it to Cummings’ mother (Kennedy 56). In his Latin course, Cummings especially enjoyed translating Horace, producing, as Richard S. Kennedy notes, “three of the best poems he had yet written” (57). Also this year, the young poet took a course in Tennyson, whose Victorian moralism soon became tiring. Cummings jotted down these satirical couplets to express his displeasure and to amuse his classmates:

Dear God, be kind to Tennyson,
He did no harm to anyone.
For queen, for country, and for Thee
He wrote for all eternity.
He led an exemplary life
Having children by his wife.
Dear Lord: let Keats and Shelley wait.
Make Tennyson thy laureate. (qtd. in Kennedy 64-65)

Also in this spring semester, Cummings was writing more formal verse for a student audience: in March, he published two poems in The Harvard Advocate, “Summer Silence (Spenserian Stanza)” (March 7) and “Sunset” (March 21). In his discussion (in Spring 20) of the first poem, William Blissett says that it “puts one in mind of Keats more than Spenser, and of Rossetti more than either, as is evidenced by “immemorial” and “untranslated” (25). Blissett astutely points out how Cummings imitated Rossetti’s habit of “emphatically” placing “the long negative word” and how he later adapted this Pre-Raphaelite mannerism to his own special vocabulary in coining words like “unworld.” The mannerism, however, also helped to produce the last line and a half of the poem, which no doubt mightily impressed the Harvard aesthetes: “No whisper mars / The utter silence of the untranslated stars” (CP 858). The second poem, a sonnet, shows the influence of Keats in images like the “one pure-browed / White-fingered star” that stitches “the dead day’s shroud” (CP 859). After a classical allusion that imagines Night shaking “the day’s fillets [ribbons]” out of her “locks,” Cummings ends the poem on a more modern note: “Hark! the cold ripple sneering on the rocks!”

In May, 1913 Cummings appeared in a production of the Cambridge Social Dramatic Club, Jerome K. Jerome’s The New Lady Bantock, or Fanny and the Servant Problem (Kennedy 86). He played one of the problem servants, a second footman named Ernest Bennet. A graduate student in philosophy who had recently returned from a year in Paris played Vernon Wetherell, Lord Bantock. This tall and rather aloof student was named Thomas Stearns Eliot. Whoever cast the play must have been a clairvoyant genius, at least as far as predicting the two poets’ subsequent roles in Anglo-American poetry, for E. E. Cummings was destined to play the eternally snickering footman of modernism, while T. S. Eliot was fated to wear the mask of the lord of poetic erudition and arbiter of poetic reputation.

The new Lady Bantock was played by Amy de Gozzaldi, and in real life Cummings had a crush on her, so when the plot called for the two to kiss, he was shy of doing so. On opening night, however, as he remembered some 30 years later, their kiss struck sparks: “Amy de Gozzaldi kissed me;and her mouth came off on my mouth,and billions cheered:I shall never forget.” He also never forgot the fellow who played Lord Bantock, even if he did not remember his name: “let’s see:a snob,cold,older than me,aloof,never sat with the rest of the cast at rehearsals,immaculately dressed;you know,a type ‘the frozen jeuness[e] dorée’” (P/C 182). Since Eliot had met Emily Hale the year before, presumably he was not Cummings’ rival for Amy’s affections; however, it was the custom for the gentlemen in the cast to present the leading lady with a gift. Eliot brought Amy “a gorgeous bouquet of roses”; Cummings gave her a poem that was published in the June issue of the Harvard Monthly (Kennedy 86-87). The poem tells of dusk sinking “with faint wild wings . . . with Night’s arrow in her heart!” and of the lovers escaping from “the awful rant and roar of men and things . . . into Silence” (CP 863).

May was a busy month for Cummings. On May 11, he sent a letter to Scofield Thayer, “expressing . . . admiration” for one of Thayer’s love poems, writing: “I shall be very proud and happy indeed when I can say the thing so completely, so purely, and with such a true and fine ring” (qtd. in Dempsey 16). Thayer responded on May 13, inviting Cummings to join the editorial board of the Harvard Monthly. Among the editors at the time were Cummings’ friends Arthur Wilson, Cuthbert Wright, and Gilbert Seldes, future cultural critic and assistant editor of The Dial. Cummings is listed on the masthead as “E Estlin Cummings.” Looking at George Firmage’s Bibliography, it is apparent that Cummings cut down on his contributions to the Monthly after he became an editor, publishing no more poems in 1913 after the June appearance of his poem for Amy de Gozzaldi.

Perhaps Cummings turned his focus elsewhere for a time, for he had begun exploring Boston night life as well as the new developments in modern art and poetry, thanks to tutelage of S. Foster Damon, who introduced him to the music of Stravinsky and Debussy, as well as loaning him copies of Poetry magazine (Kennedy 78). It may have been in late 1913 when Damon “took Cummings out drinking for the first time in his life” at Jacob Wirth’s “sawdust-strewn restaurant on Stuart Street” in Boston (Kennedy 79). When the Armory Show was in Boston (from April 28 to May 19, 1913) Damon took Cummings to see it. Officially called the International Exhibition of Modern Art, the Armory Show was designed to introduce the American public to the latest trends in modern art, both European and American. As Kim Orcutt writes, the Boston version of the show “was whittled down from upwards of fourteen hundred to less than three hundred objects, and American works were eliminated, so Bostonians saw only the avant-garde European paintings, sculpture, and works on paper that had startled visitors in New York and Chicago.” Boston critics were not impressed, saying that the art was “branded with the mark of cocaine” and that it represented “charlatanism and insanity combined” (qtd. in Troyen 382).

In his 1920 review of T. S. Eliot, Cummings noted the Boston reaction to the show in this way:

The last word on caricature was spoken as far back as 1913. “My dear it’s all so perfectly ridiculous” remarked to an elderly Boston woman an elderly woman of Boston, as the twain made their noticeably irrevocable exeunt from that most colossal of all circuses, the (then in Boston) International. “My dear if some of the pictures didn’t look like something it wouldn’t be so amusing” observed, on the threshold, the e.B.w., adding “I should hate to have my portrait painted by any of those ‘artists’!” “They’ll never make a statue of me” stated with polyphiloprogenitive conviction the e.w.o.B. (26)

Cummings was especially taken by the Cézanne paintings and by Brancusi’s sculpture Mlle. Pogany, which, two years later in his graduation speech at Harvard, he termed a “triumph of line for line’s sake over realism” (“New Art” 6).



Michael Webster

Grand Valley State University



Works Cited


Ahearn, Barry, ed. Pound / Cummings: The Correspondence of Ezra Pound and E. E. Cummings. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1996. Abbreviated P/C.

Blissett, William. “E. E. Cummings: A Surprising Spenserian.” Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society 20 (2013): 24-36.

Cummings, E. E. Complete Poems, 1904-1962. Ed George J. Firmage. New York: Liveright, 1994.

—. “The New Art.” The Harvard Advocate (June 1915). Rpt. in E. E. Cummings: A Miscellany Revised. Ed. George J. Firmage. New York: October House, 1965. 5-11.

—. “T. S. Eliot.” The Dial (June 1920). E. E. Cummings: A Miscellany Revised. Ed. George J. Firmage. New York: October House, 1965. 25-29.

Dempsey, James. The Tortured Life of Scofield Thayer. Gainesville: UP of Florida, 2014.

Firmage, George J. E. E. Cummings: A Bibliography. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan UP, 1960.

The Harvard Monthly 56.1-5 (March-July 1913). Google Books. Web.

Hopkinson, Sarah. “The Early Advocate: e.e. cummings.” Notes from 21 South Street. The Harvard Advocate Blog. 17 Oct. 2012. Web.

Kennedy, Richard S. Dreams in the Mirror: A Biography of E. E. Cummings. New York: Liveright, 1980.

Kushner, Marilyn Satin and Kimberly Orcutt, eds. The Armory Show at 100: Modernism and Revolution. New York: New-York Historical Society / London: D. Giles, 2013.

Orcutt, Kim. “The Armory Show Lands with a Thud in Boston.” Blog post. The Armory Show at 100: Modern Art and Revolution. New-York Historical Society. 13 April 2013. Web.

Troyen, Carol. “ ‘Unwept, unhonored, and unsung’: The Armory Show in Boston.” The Armory Show at 100: Modernism and Revolution. Eds. Marilyn Satin Kushner and Kimberly Orcutt, with Casey Nelson Blake. New York: New-York Historical Society / London: in association with D. Giles, 2013. 379-391.



EEC in Harvard Advocate: Published in The Harvard Advocate, Vol. XCV, March 7, 1913.

EEC poem in June, 1913 Harvard Monthly:

Armory Show at 100:

Orcutt, Armory Show in Boston:

Natalie Merchant’s Performance of “maggie and milly and molly and may”

Here is a video of Natalie Merchant performing her setting of “maggie and milly and molly and may” (CP 682).  A studio recording of the song is one of the tracks on Merchant’s 2010 double CD Leave Your Sleep (Nonesuch), which contains her musical adaptations of poems both famous and quite obscure, many of them children’s poems.


Michael Webster

Grand Valley State University


In Memoriam: Norman Friedman (1925-2014)

Norman Friedman, 1960

Norman Friedman, 1960

Anyone who begins a rigorous study of Cummings soon realizes the crucial contributions of Norman Friedman. In a spirit of celebration of his life, and in memory of his death, Michael Webster has created a webpage, which can be found here.

The links and tributes below (which are also included on Spring’s website) help give an indication of the extensive and generous life’s work of this beloved scholar.


A Norman Friedman Bibliography

From Spring 14 & 15 (2005 / 2006) [Special Norman Friedman Double Issue]:

Tributes to Norman Friedman.” Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society 14-15 (October 2006): 9-30.

Friedman, Norman. “The Other Cummings: The Private Side.” Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society 14-15 (October 2006): 31-45.

—. “Cummings, Oedipus, and Childhood: Problems of Anxiety and Intimacy.” Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society 14-15 (2006): 46-68.

Lewis Turco, “The Passing of Norman Friedman

Michael Dylan Welch, “Tribute to Norman Friedman

Tributes to Norman Friedman

Here are some tributes to Norman, in reverse order in which they were received (e-mail fashion):


I never met Norman Friedman, but his books, his deep understanding of Cummings’ spirit greatly helped me to translate the poems of “our nonhero”.
My sympathy to his wife, family and friends.

jacques demarcq


I never had the chance to meet Norman, but in reading through your emails, I have been struck by how his spirit of generosity lives on in the Cummings Society. I gave my first conference presentation at a Cummings panel in 2008, and I felt very much welcomed and encouraged by Mike, Gillian, Etienne, and everyone in a way similar to how many of you shared how Norman welcomed you and your work. The Cummings Society has been a major influence in where I am today, and I now have a much clearer understanding as to why the Cummings Society is so unique: Norman was and is a nonhero, and like EEC, a nonhero’s spirit contagiously affects the people around him.

for the leaping greenly spirits of trees,

Aaron Moe


I was shocked and dismayed to learn of Norman Friedman’s death. He has been very important to me as I have in recent years continued my work on the writings of E. E. Cummings. I recently reviewed all my past correspondence with him and realized that I did not always respond to his suggestions – and even invitations! I plan to remedy that, partly as a thank you for his invaluable service to all of us for many years.

Bethany Dumas


Yes, I agree, we are all obviously uniting our voices here to remember Norman as a philanthropist and great lover of people and literature.

Personally, I’ll always remember his enthusiasm and warmth when welcoming me in New York as a PHD student on EEC. That day gave a new and truer dimension to my work as Norman had known EEC and had been there till his last day. I hope that Zelda can be reassured as now it is EEC in turn who is welcoming him over there, their fingers not writing or painting but uniting and dancing,

“the impressed fingers of sublime
Memory,of that loveliness receiving
the image (all our) proud heart(s) (will forever) cherish as fair”

(Sonnets, Unrealities, II, 137).

Claudia Desblaches


Zelda and Norman have been in my thoughts all week.  It was a shock to be in the middle of a conference last week and hear about Norman’s passing.  It took me back to my first ALA conference in the late ‘80s and all the ALA Cummings sessions after that.  I felt welcomed by them both—even when I was a very young, awkward scholar of perhaps 23 years.  Norman was always helpful and encouraging.  I am so proud to tell everyone that I meet that I am part of this wonderful group of EEC scholars. Even if I have been absent in recent years, Norman, Zelda and all of you are part of who I am.
I too look forward to many reflective pieces in Spring. He cared deeply about this work, so it is time for me to return to EEC in his honor.  I will think of him as I write!


Taimi Olsen


Norman was the Chair of the Cummings Society when I started attending ALA as a graduate student in the 1980s.  He and Zelda took me under their wings immediately and made me feel like my fledgling work was valued.  They set the welcoming tone that characterizes this group to this day.  What fine founders all of those early Cummings scholars were.

Rai Peterson


From Madrid in Euroland,

I think that we all should write something about our relationship with Norman and Zelda for the next issue of Spring. That’s the best tribute for a generous person who, in my case, helped so much with my PhD and later publications and, considering the time difference, patiently woke up in the middle of the night when in the 1990s I sent him faxes asking questions about Mr. Cummings.

Thanks a lot, Norman.

Teresa González Mínguez


Norman was a fine scholar and a gentle, kind man.  It says something about your scholarship when you write not only the first critical monograph on a major poet, but one that remains, after many decades, the best single study of Cummings’s poetry.  I had the honor and pleasure of meeting Norman and Zelda several times at Cummings sessions of conferences and when we each lectured at the other’s university during the Cummings centennial.  Each meeting, professional or social, reinforced my feeling that they were a gracious, charming couple.  Many of you know that Norman (and Zelda too, I believe) was a practicing psychologist.  I had a chance to see and benefit from this side of his wisdom when he kindly advised me on some problems I was having with my adolescent daughter.  The advice, like all of Norman’s insights, was offered gently–and gratefully received.  That was Norman.  We’ll miss him.

Milt Cohen


I have never been more grateful for a friendship or more honored by one than that with Norman and Zelda. I’m happy to have expressed that to them while Norman was still with us, and it was always with the greatest sincerity. I know that Zelda will be sustained now by the bonds shared in those final years, even as I offer my sympathy for the inevitability of her loss. I hope she finds comfort in the outpouring of shared memories and tributes that I read online this evening, as I add my voice to that chorus.

Gerry Locklin


Thanks for letting me know, Mike.  Very sorry to hear.

After finding out about Norman, I had a yen to read up on him at Wikipedia and was shocked to be unable to find an entry on him.  Is there one?  I’m not a big admirer of Wikipedia but it can be handy for surface views of various subjects, so I’d like it to have entries on all the writers I admire–including, for certain, Norman.     Would any of our society’s younger admirers of Cummings be interested in making an entry on him?  I wish I had time to myself, but . . .

all best, Bob Grumman


Like Todd, Norman was my first connection to the Cummings Society, and he became a sort of mentor to me, as I’m sure he was to many. I always felt honored to be part of the society and to have the great Norman Friedman comment on my work. Through his encouragement I was able to accomplish and achieve more than I ever thought I could.  He was not only a brilliant scholar but an inspiring teacher, a generous colleague, and an unforgettable person.

Millie Kidd


Norman was the editor of Spring when I submitted my first work on E. E. Cummings.  He was very encouraging and supportive.   I only met him once during a conference panel that I participated in, but as so many others have noted, his work and its influence is indisputable.

Todd  Martin


In Memoriam Norman Friedman

a great

gone. (#14 73 Poems  CP 786)

how generous is that himself the sun

(never a moment ceasing to begin
the mystery of day for someone’s eyes)

with goldenly his fathering
nearness awakened
and our night’s thousand million miracles (#84 95 Poems  CP 756)

over us if(as what was dusk becomes
darkness)innumerably singular
strictly immeasurable nowhere flames

to call the stars, Norman and Cummings,  (#69 95 Poems  CP 741)

whose absence would have made your whole life and my
(and infinite our)merely to undie  (#45 73 Poems  CP 817)

“i carry your books with me(i carry them in my heart”; you’re with stars now and we remember.  Our thoughts and prayers are with Zelda and family,

Gillian Huang-Tiller and Ken Tiller
University of Virginia-Wise


Norman’s influence extends across boundaries here into South Africa, where I’ve been carrying him, carrying him in my heart. To read his work has been one of those turning-point experiences. To have met him in Boston was the most gentle mind-blow. He and Zelda like that, beautifully smallish within a very tangible aura of living well, in touch with each other and life. You could feel his big, gentle, clear heart from a distance. I will never forget him, and it actually hurts, stings, to think that he won’t be lightly treading this Earth with us any further. Not to mention missing his further writing on our non-hero.

Words fail, and so they should.

Etienne Terblanche


Dick Bailey, who hired me at the University of Michigan in 1985 and also died just recently, was Norman’s student.
Over my 27 years here of teaching at Michigan, before I retired last year, this lead to many spirited conversations between us about Norman, E.E, etc.
So sorry to hear of Norman’s passing.

I admire everything Norman wrote about E.E.


The body of work is beautiful.

On this point, what more can you say?


–Rich Cureton


Norman once told me he wanted “forgetting me, remember me” to be thought of at his passing. So, I imagine, would most of us.

David V. Forrest


Thanks for your input on Norman. We were colleagues for years. As you say
He lives on.
George Held


Thanks, Michael.  N. lived the EEC spirit.
Bill Harmon

Cummings as a Descendant of Whitman

Image from Ed Folsom's "Whitman Making Books"

Image from Folsom’s “Whitman Making Books”

Quite awhile ago, Michael Webster learned that I was exploring the connections between Cummings and Whitman, and he shared with me a sheet from the Cummings archive. At an early time in Cummings career, he took a handful of Whitman’s lines, scanned their rhythmic stresses, and yet also arranged them typographically on the page. Provocatively, Cummings experiments with both visual and aural dynamics all while using Whitman’s lines.

In Zoopoetics: Animals and the Making of Poetry, I provide an image of the sheet and I discuss it further (see 60 ff.). I also point out that Whitman saw “Sex, Amativeness, and Animality” to be the three overarching themes of Leaves of Grass (Whitman 1891–92, 436; Moe 60)—three themes that pervade Cummings’ oeuvre as well.

Here, I want to explore further the connections between Whitman and Cummings. Directly or indirectly, the seed for Cummings’ Protean poetics can be found in the way that Whitman morphed the letters Leaves of Grass. As Ed Folsom observes in “Whitman Making Books / Books Making Whitman,” Whitman hand stamped the letters Leaves of Grass so that the letters morph into luscious vegetation. In another version, Whitman drew the letters so that they morph into sperm (see image above). There is this erotic and organic energy in language—almost an agency—that Whitman celebrates. The alphabetic forms of letters seem to want to shapeshift into something more not unlike sperm joins with an egg to become a zygote, then explodes into millions of cells and several systems and organs. Whitman foregrounds how this kind of energy exists in language as well.

As an aside, I am reminded of Ronald Johnson’s “earthearthearth” poem. He places three earth’s together in each line, for six lines, and the organic, erotic, and Protean energy of language takes over. Several words and phrases suddenly emerge: art, hear, hearth, ear, hear the earth, heart, heart the earth.

I suggest it is helpful to see Cummings’ Protean poetics—where letters shapeshift into seedlings, snowflakes, flowers, bees, flies, grasshoppers, leaves, confetti, and so much more—in the context of Whitman’s poetic vision. This suggestion calls for several pages of close reading in order to substantiate, which is beyond the scope of this blog post. Suffice it to say that Whitman took seriously Emerson’s call for the “architecture” of a poem to be “alive” like the “spirit of a plant or an animal” (290). He revolutionized poetic form by returning to the elemental forces of the earth and of the body.

And Cummings’ work—far from being an anomaly to the poetic tradition—continues that work.



Aaron M. Moe

Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, IN



Works Cited

Emerson, Ralph. The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Ed. Brooks Atkinson. New York: Modern Library, 2000. Print.

Folsom, Ed. “Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary.” The Walt Whitman Archive. 2005. Web. 31 Aug. 2011.

Johnson, Ronald. Songs of the Earth. Presented by Kaligram Magazine, Kaldron On-Line, and Light and Dust Mobile Anthology of Poetry, 2000. Web. 16 Nov. 2014.

Moe, Aaron. Zoopoetics: Animals and the Making of Poetry. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2014. Print.

Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass in the Walt Whitman Archive. Lincoln: Center for Digital Research in the Humanities, University of Nebraska, 1995. Web.

“SOME [of my poems] are to be seen & not heard”—EEC

Retro Microphone

Retro Microphone

SOME of them. This quote comes from a letter Cummings wrote late in his life—July 4, 1960—to Miss Lawrence, and has often been cited in explorations of Cummings’ visual poems. In the letter, Cummings provides a brief gloss of several of his poems that hinge on the visual dynamic (Letters 267–68).

Now, Cummings will most likely always be thought of the poet of the EYE (and the i), and I agree. Cummings did, though, appreciate Gertrude Stein’s work (see “The New Art” in Miscellany 5–11), and his oevree suggests he gave much more than a passing glance at what is possible with language and the ear. My point? Cummings’ poetics of the eye should not overshadow his avant-garde-poetics-of-the-ear.

Some of his poems ought to be heard—and then some should be heard and seen together.

Take “ygUDuh” for instance—otherwise written as you gotta (CP 547). Cummings’ phonetic spellings, combined with the visual spaces of the indentations and stanza breaks, encourage the reader to perform the poem with the full body. The line “ydoan o nudn” is normally written as you don’t know nothing. The line “LISN bud LISN” is normally listen, bud, listen—but the capitalization calls for more emphasis by the performing reader, and the following stanza break calls for silence before the speaker utters his bigoted statement. One sees the gestures of the poem, but those gestures are translated into gestures of the performing body—as if seeing is part of listening. And make no mistake about it. This poem must begin in the mouth for the strange “spellings” to begin to make sense.

Larry Chott has helped circulate another of Cummings’ avant-garde-poems-for-the-ear through many audiences: “oil tel du woil doi sez” (CP 312), that is, I’ll tell the world I says. In “The Sight of Sound: Cummings’ ‘oil tel du woil doi sez’” Chott contextualizes the poem as taking place at a bar. I won’t recap his brilliant close reading except to say that that the bar falls silent, all faces turn toward the speaker, who, becoming increasingly exasperated, hollers out “HAI / yoozwidduhpoimnuntwaiv un duhyookuhsumpnruddur / givusuhtoonunduhphugnting,” which reads HEY! you with the permanent wave and the uku-something rather . . . give us a tune on the fucking thing.

Chott applies Rai Peterson’s insight that Cummings’ blank spaces often generate an “audible silence” or a “chaotic white noise,” and he sees such a dynamic in the way the final three lines are spaced (see his article for the typography of the poem). The visual dynamic is important in this poem, but the poem, like “ygUDuh,” begins in the mouth. True, we look at the letters first, but the letters do not make sense until the mouth begins performing them. It must be heard.

Many more examples of Cummings’ avant-garde-poetics-of-the-ear exist, including, for instance, a poem about a super-moon rising. In “!” (CP 722), the assonance of the diphthong r-O-U-n-d crescendos in various forms until the mouth is full of roundness.

But even in his more “accessible” poems, the ear matters. Poetry, by and large, must be read aloud in order to understand the texture and tone of the language. “‘next to of course god america i” is one such poem (CP 267). If read in monotone, all seems lost. Many readers will discover and emphasize various dynamics of the poem—and there are, of course, multiple ways to envision the poem’s speaker. I see the speaker begin in sarcasm which augments into hysteria and desperation. The phrase “even deafanddumb” comes like an epiphany.  Here is a link to my reading of Cummings’ “next to of course god america i.” Students often “get” the poem much more readily when it is performed rather than read, even if “read aloud” in monotone. Hearing the poem leads one back into seeing it, into tracing the instability throughout the sonnet: broken words, missing periods, and so forth.

(I should mention that The Poetry Foundation launched an online project to house audio files of people reading poetry aloud. Concerning Fair Use, they set the precedent that circulating audio files of one’s reading of a poem is all good.)

The EAR and the EYE ought not to be seen as oppositions. Rather, they can be profoundly related in the reading of Cummings’ poetry. Etienne Terblanche, for instance, explores the sounds in one of Cummings’ most visual poems: “r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r” (see “’That Incredible Unanimal/Mankind’”).

What other poems (or passages from EIMI) epitomize Cummings’ avant-garde-poetics-of-the-ear?

In what other provocative places in Cummings’ oeuvre do the EAR and the EYE merge?



Aaron M. Moe

Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, IN




Works Cited

Chott, Larry. “The Sight of Sound: Cummings’ ‘oil tel du woil doi sez.’” Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society 6 (1997): 45–48.

Cummings, E. E. Complete Poems, 1904-1962. Ed. George J. Firmage. New York: Liveright, 1991. Print.

Nuez, Jessie. “Retro Microphone on Stage.” 24 Jan. 2013. Web Image. 17 Nov. 2014.

Terblanche, Etienne. “That ‘Incredible Unanimal/Mankind’: Jacques Derrida, E. E. Cummings and a Grasshopper.” Journal of Literary Studies 20.3-4 (2004): 218–247. Print.


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