Monday, April 6, 2009

April Is Poetry Month -- E. E. Cummings

  • Inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, National Poetry Month is now held every April, when publishers, booksellers, literary organizations, libraries, schools and poets around the country band together to celebrate poetry and its vital place in American culture. Thousands of businesses and non-profit organizations participate through readings, festivals, book displays, workshops, and other events.

The website provides a wealth of content on contemporary American poetry. The official website of Academy of American Poets, offers hundreds of essays and interviews about poetry, biographies of more than 500 poets, more than 2,500 poems, and audio clips of 150 poems You can also read a new daily poem, see a calendar of events and readings for poetry month, and find where poets lived and worked near you on their website.

When I was a child we were encouraged to learn a poem by heart every year in school. In class we would recite long ballad poems such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 's "The Song of Hiawatha," Edgar Allen Poe 's "The Bells " and "The Raven," and Samuel Taylor Coleridge's lyrical ballad "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. "
In high school we read the epic poems of Homer: "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey, Dante Alighieri's " The Divine Comedy," as our English literature class assignments. I'll never forget being baffled and perplexed by the old English language of the ancient epic poem "Beowulf" that we had to study as freshman students!

It was in high school that I really began to appreciate and enjoy reading poetry, however, and one of my favorite poets at that time was Edward Estlin Cummings. He is sometimes known by the lower case as "e e cummings," although Spring, The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society, disputes that Cummings wanted his name to officially be only recognized in lower case.

Many of Cummings poems feature an distinct avant-garde style, often with words, parts of words, or punctuation symbols scattered across the page, often making little sense until read aloud, at which point the meaning and emotion become clear. It seems as if Cummings was painting a picture with the typography and syntax in many of his poems. Cummings was, in fact, also a painter and often said he was ''an author of pictures, a draughtsman of words."

I found his poems enthralling. and while some of his poetry may appear childish or simplistic, many of them deal with complex themes of urban realities, nature, birth and death, the celebration of the individual, and erotic and romantic love. He wrote 15 volumes of poetry during his lifetime, 1894-1962

From the website:

During his lifetime, Cummings received a number of honors, including an Academy of American Poets Fellowship, two Guggenheim Fellowships, the Charles Eliot Norton Professorship at Harvard, the Bollingen Prize in Poetry in 1958, and a Ford Foundation grant.

At the time of his death, September 3, 1962, he was the second most widely read poet in the United States, after Robert Frost

Some examples of his work:

In just

in Just-
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles far and wee
and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it's

when the world is puddle-wonderful
the queer
old balloonman whistles
far and wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and


balloonMan whistles

i carry your heart with me

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond

somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near
your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose
or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing
(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

4 Patchin Place, off West 10th Street between 6th Avenue and Greenwich Avenue in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York was E. E. Cummings' residence, along with his third wife Marion Morehouse, from 1923 until his death in 1962. Cummings wrote that "the top floor back room at 4 Patchin Place ... meant Safety & Peace & the truth of Dreaming & the bliss of Work".
There is a large, sometimes locked iron gate, in front of the blind alley of Patchin Place.

A closer view of the top floor window that E. E. Cummings would look out of as he worked.

Patchin Place also contains NYC's last functioning gas lamp. The lamp dates back to the gaslight era and has since been electrified. If you click on to enlarge the photo above you can see it at the back of the courtyard.

Directly across the street from Patchin Place is the Jefferson Market Library at 425 6th Ave. Originally a courthouse, this magnificent building, which looks like a Victorian era castle, was built in 1875 and is considered one of the most beautiful buildings in New York. A firewatcher used to be housed in the 100 foot tall tower, on the lookout for fires in the Village and ready to call out the firemen. It has served as a branch of the New York Public Library since 1967.

Another view of The Jefferson Market Library.

A photo of E. E. Cummings standing at the door of 4 Patchin Place.

Cummings often welcomed the visits of fellow poets such as T. S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas and Ezra Pound who all made a pilgrimage to see him at Patchin Place.
Patchin Place was also the home of the writers John Masefield, and John Reed, who lived at No. 1 while he was writing his eyewitness account of the Russian Revolution: ''Ten Days That Shook the World.'' Still another resident was Djuna Barnes, famous for her satirical novel ''Nightwood,'' who lived at 5 Patchin Place.

I hope you will enjoy reading and sharing some of your favorite poems during the month of April, and perhaps be inspired to write a poem of your own!


Ciao Chow Linda said...

I had no idea it was poetry month. I'm taking an Italian poetry class, so I'm right in step then. I also never knew that Patchin Place existed and I must have passed it dozens of times. Thanks for the great post on poetry, on E.E. Cummings and historical spots in the village.

Nola said...

I'm excited to find out that April is poetry month ~ I had no idea! I may have to do a post about this, too. My two favs are William Wordsworth and Walt Whitman!
I remember how fascinated I was with e e cummings because of the lower case lettering!

The Quintessential Magpie said...

I love poetry, too, Pat, and my favorite book is a volume of poetry that was a gift from my father when I was quite young.

That is my favorite ee cummuning's poem, and I love the term in-just spring. I know exactly what he's talking about! I just saw it in the Ocala National Forest one week, and it was gone the next!


Sheila :-)

MuseSwings said...

What a delightful post! I love e.e.cummings poetry. The placement of words says much more than the words would if properly spaced and punctuated.

Junie Moon said...

Great post! I do enjoy his poetry. One of my favorites is the following (From "since feeling is first"):

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;


kisses are a far better fate
than wisdom

Sue said...

Pat, Lovely post and information of one of my favorite poets. You are a wealth of information and inspiration to me. Thank you. xxoo Sue

Tracy said...

LOVE poetry month! I will be sharing some durng the month...not my own though, I wouldn't dare, though I love to dabble in writing poetry. I've aleays like the works of e.e. cummings and this was great tribute to him. Happy week, Pat :o) ((HUGS)) Oh, stop by if you get a chance--I'm having a fun giveaway this week!

Donna said...

Very interesting ~ great post on E.E. Cummings! I like the poem "In Just". Great photos too!

Thanks for the info, Pat!

Have a happy week!

Unknown said...

Hi Pat,
Thanks for all the info on E E Cummings. I really have to admit I have very little background knowledge on him! And I had forgotten that April is poetry month.

I love the post you did of his home and the library...I'm pretty sure we passed both on a tour bus trip we took on Wed. I think I photographed the library, but didn't remember what it was!
Have a great day,

Wendy said...

Great post. I wonder who lives in his old place.

supplies overflowing! said...

Once again, thank you for educating me!

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

Hi Wendy
I'm not sure who lives at 4, but I've read that a lot of psychotherapists have offices in Patchin Place these days ... the rent in that area is so expensive they are probably the only ones who can afford it!

Vee said...

Is this an event in Blogdom, too? Seems I read that somewhere about sharing a favorite poet... Isn't e.e. cummings great? I love what he does with words often including each of the senses. Wonderful stuff!

Arlene Delloro said...

Thank you, Pat, for featuring one of my favorite poets. When I taught high school English, hoping to inspire students to continue reading poetry outside the classroom, I used e.e. cummings since his unconventional approach appealed to their teen-age rebelliousness. I couldn't choose a favorite poem of his if I tried, but your post inspired me to reread several of them (available online). Thank you again.

Bo said...

Hi Pat...can you believe E.E. Cummings & T.S. Eliott were two of my late son's favorites....thanks for this GREAT post! ;-) Bo

Mmm said...

I love the whole idea of poets wordsmithing the perfect line and doing it full time for the sake of the art of it all. Very romantic. EE Cummings is someone I only recently started reading.

I love your pics of where he would have worked, btw.Add so much. TY/

Just A Girl said...

Hi Pat,
I have an award on my blog for you!!!

xoxo Cori

Unknown said...

Thank you for the wonderful information Pat, you're a gem :D Hope you have a great week ahead.

black eyed susans kitchen said...

Once again Pat, you have informed, educated and enlightened me. I love this area of the Village and used to make a pilgrimage back there every few years. It has been a long time though and you have brought me back. This is a wonderful post.
♥, Susan

Deborah said...

I followed the trail from Cori's blog and what delight I found! Perhaps I am a bit dim, but simple poetry is what I love...words that convey the spirit and move the soul. If I wanted a larger vocabulary I would read the dictionary! Love your new grand baby. I am raising my grandcat while my son is in Iraq. I shall be back for another visit soon. **blows kisses** Deborah

Beverly said...

Pat, I wanted to thank you for stopping by, and let you know that the reason I haven't been able to visit anyone is because of what is going on with my mother. Hopefully, she is healing.

I am a big lover of poetry. Do you remember Rod McKuen? He was a favorite of mine.

Your friendship means a lot to me.

Anonymous said...

Hia Pat, I'm hoping to go up to Grassmere in the Lake District to see the hosts of golden daffodils that Wordsworth wrote about.

Have just emailed the heart poem to hubby . :-) Thanks for that- it's apt.

Lorrie said...

Pat what an interesting post. In Just is a poem that I remember very clearly learning in my high school days. The photos of Patchin Place are fascinating--thanks for providing this more in-depth look into Cummings.

Laura @ the shorehouse. said...

Well how about that...I walk by there a lot (when I take the 9th St PATH train) and had no idea that was the last gaslight in NYC!'ve taught me again. :-)

I had to memorize the first two stanzas of The Raven in 4th grade!!! Nothing like a perky little poem for a 9 year-old. :-) I still remember it, though, and I grew to love Poe (once I understood what I was saying, LOL!).

Kathy said...

Another beautiful post
Pat, such lovely poetry and information on this area of NY, I have to return now as there is so so much more to NY than I saw in my few days there hugs, Kathy.