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Tag: poetry

Audio Cummings 2

In 2015, I made a page of links to Cummings readings available on the web called “Audio Cummings.” Most notable among these is a link to an October 1949 recording of Cummings reading at the 92nd Street Y. [See the “Audio Cummings” post for a track list.] Since 2015, a few more publicly available readings have appeared, most notably the following.

  1. The first Caedmon LP

The sound recordings from E. E. Cummings Reads His Poetry (1953) may be found at The listing of the links to individual tracks on this page has a glitch, beginning at track 15, where one does indeed hear “o by the by,” but then at 1:10 on the track, we hear “hate blows a bubble of despair into” and, after that poem, one hears “Yes is a pleasant country.” Track 16, which is labelled “hate blows a bubble of despair into,” actually features the beginning of “i thank you God for most this amazing” which is completed on track 17. And the mislabeling of tracks continues until the end. [See track 15.]

Here is a revised version of the track list:

  1. Him (The Acrobat Passage)
  2. Eimi (Lenin’s Tomb)
  3. Santa Claus (Scene Three)
  4. when serpents bargain for the right to squirm (XAIPE) [CP 620]
  5. dying is fine)but Death (XAIPE) [CP 604]
  6. why must itself up every of a park (XAIPE) [CP 636]
  7. when god decided to invent (One Times One) [CP 566]
  8. nothing false and possible is love (One Times One) [CP 574]
  9. Hello is what a mirror says (One Times One) [CP 570] 
  10. who were so dark of heart they might not speak (XAIPE) [CP 649]
  11. i say no world (50 Poems) [CP 523]
  12. life is more true than reason will deceive (One Times One) [CP 592]
  13. what if a much of a which of a wind (One Times One) [CP 560]
  14. one’s not half two. It’s two are halves of one (One Times One) [CP 556]
  15. o by the by (One Times One) [CP 593]; hate blows a bubble of despair into (50 Poems) [CP 531]; yes is a pleasant country (One Times One) [CP 578]
  16. i thank You God for most this amazing [octave] (XAIPE) [CP 665]
  17. i thank You God for most this amazing [sestet] (XAIPE)
  18. “sweet spring is your (One Times One) [CP 591]
  19. true lovers in each happening of their hearts (One Times One) [CP 576]
  20. when faces called flowers float out of the ground [stanzas 1-2] (XAIPE) [CP 665]
  21. when faces called flowers float out of the ground [stanza 3] (XAIPE)

2. Readings available at Harvard

The Woodberry Poetry Room at Harvard University has constructed a Listening Booth where one can hear readings from over two hundred writers, among them modern poets such as T. S. Eliot, Edna St. Vincent Millay, W. H. Auden, and, of course, E. E. Cummings.

At the Cummings page, one finds the complete i: six nonlectures, as well as a reading of selections from XAIPE given on April 25, 1953. Cummings reads twelve poems, mostly from the beginning or the end of the book, in the following order, with poems numbered as they are in the book:

    1. this(let’s remember)day dies again and (CP 599)

    3. purer than purest pure (CP 601)

    5. swim so now million many worlds in each (CP 603)

    6. dying is fine)but death (CP 604)

    22. when serpents bargain for the right to squirm (CP 620)

    41. whose are these(wraith a clinging with a wraith) (CP 639)

    59. the little horse is newlY (CP 657)

    65. i thank You God for most this amazing (CP 663)

    67. when faces called flowers float out of the ground (CP 665)

    69. now all the fingers of this tree(darling)have (CP 667)

    66. the great advantage of being alive (CP 664)

    71. luminous tendril of celestial wish (CP 669)

Another reading recorded on April 18, 1953 is listed on the Harvard Cummings page, with the following disclaimer: “Due to copyright restrictions, this recording is available only to Harvard users. To access the recording, click here. A Login will be required.” Despite this note’s dire warning, the link at “click here” takes one to a page titled “Selections from Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll / Cummings, E. E. (Edward Estlin), 1894-1962 [speaker]”—where no log in as a “Harvard user” is required. Clicking on the button “Online Access” takes one to a page where the listener can hear Cummings reciting these Lear and Lewis Carroll poems:

    Calico Pie (Edward Lear)

    The Owl and the Pussy Cat (Edward Lear)

    The Pobble Who Has No Toes (Edward Lear)

    The Jumblies (Edward Lear)

    Beautiful Soup (Lewis Carroll)

    Jabberwocky (Lewis Carroll)

    Father William (Lewis Carroll)

    The Walrus and the Carpenter (Lewis Carroll)

Plus, we find this example, from Harvard University, a 4:17 clip from the third of the six nonlectures: (47-48). At the end of the clip, Cummings sings bits of songs popular around 1915 or so.)

Despite the Woodberry’s disclaimer that “due to the transition to a new library platform, this site was discontinued in 2018,” the page functions quite well. The page further advises: “For more recent videos, please visit the WPR YouTube channel. For additional archival recordings, you can search HOLLIS under the author’s name and recording date.”

3. A Cummings Poetry Reading at Eastern Michigan University [1959]

Despite some annoying electronic screeches from time to time, this double album of readings preserved at is well worth a listen. Track lists follow, along with some marginal comments.

Track list,part 1, 31:50]:

  1. [0:00-2:35] Introduction by anonymous announcer
  2. [2:50-3:55] Introduction by Cummings
  3. [4:00] in Just- / spring (CP 17)
  4. [5:45] nobody loses all the time (CP 237)
  5. [8:25] Memorabilia (CP 254) [EEC pronounces “Thos. Cook” as “Those Cook.”]
  6. [10:55] a man who had fallen among thieves (CP 256) [“banged with terror”]
  7. [13:05] next to of course god america i (CP 267) [He acts the voice well.]
  8. [14:35] since feeling is first (CP 267)
  9. [16:00] somewhere i have never travelled (CP 367)
  10. [18:35] if there are any heavens my mother will(all by herself )have (CP 353)
  11. [20:15] kumrads die because they’re told) (413) [He pronounces the word “comrades”]
  12. [21:40] this mind made war (CP 440) [Note Boston accent.]
  13. [25:24] (of Ever-Ever Land i speak (CP 466)
  14. [28:00] anyone lived in a pretty how town (CP 515)

Track list, part 2, 27:53

  1. of all the blessings which to man (CP 544)
  2. [2:10] ygUDuh (CP 547)
  3. [2:50] a salesman is an it that stinks Excuse (CP 549)
  4. [3:46] a politician is an arse upon (CP 550)
  5. [4:10] rain or hail (CP 508)
  6. [5:50] darling!because my blood can sing (CP 580)
  7. [8:28] “sweet spring is your (CP 591)
  8. [10:40] o by the by (CP 593)
  9. [12:25] when serpents bargain for the right to squirm (CP 620)
  10. [14:05] maggie and milly and molly and may (CP 682)
  11. [15:30] that melancholy (CP 697) [no 3 taps at “t,a,p,s”]
  12. [17:30] what Got him was Noth (CP 702)
  13. [18:35] THANKSGIVING (1956) (CP 711) [He says “the UN,” rather than “the you enn”]
  14. [21:25] my father moved through dooms of love (CP 520)

4. Cummings on You Tube

Readings of Cummings poems on the web can sometimes be disappointing. From the vast wilderness of You Tube, I choose Cummings reading “A Poet’s Advice to Students” (1955).


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.

“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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