Collins on e.e. cummings

At Slate, former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins makes a case for (or against, depending on your perspective) the poems of e.e. cummings. He argues that, while the poet’s work is disdained these days, “his typographical experimentation might be seen to have come alive again in the kind of postmodern experiments practiced by Dave Eggers and Jonathan Safran Foer, not to mention the coded text-messaging of American teenagers.”

I’ll concede that cummings had some talent — for Harry Crews’ favorite line, if nothing else. But even if you disagree, Collins is an entertaining essayist. Here’s the first paragraph:

In 1957, on television’s Nitebeat, Mike Wallace asked William Carlos Williams if he thought that E.E. Cummings’ poem “(im)c-a-t(mo) / b,i;l: e” was really a poem. (Television was different back then.) Williams said no. Maybe the question was too blunt; maybe the poet considered this print ideogram of a motionless cat too juvenile. But if William Carlos Williams, himself a leading experimental poet of the time, was not able to recognize that outburst of phonemes and punctuation marks as poetry, what hope was there for the average readers of the time — “mostpeople,” as Cummings liked to call them — not to mention all the folks residing in Televisionland?

(Via Bookslut.)

Collins’ The Trouble With Poetry and Other Poems is forthcoming later this year.


You might want to subscribe to my free Substack newsletter, Ancestor Trouble, if the name makes intuitive sense to you.