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 audible.com 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 in New York City, 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:
- The Poetry Foundation’s podcast “E. E. Cummings: Essential American Poets” presents Cummings reading “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). These tracks are from the 92nd Street Y reading, recorded October 20, 1949. (The “1959” note on the podcast page is in error.)
- The Poetry Archive presents Cummings reading one poem: ” ‘next to of course god america i” (CP 267). Recorded by the BBC, date unknown.
- The UBU web Cummings sound page offers recordings of “that melancholy” (CP 697) 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).
Grand Valley State University
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.