E. E. Cummings (YGtCTO Words #47)

nobody loses all the time

Poem by e.e. cummings

For just one moment, forget arguments about what to include in the science curriculum of our schools. I want to be there for the discussion about including Cummings in the English coursework. I like to believe that it was a retired teacher with a hidden rebellious streak- maybe just a little ticked about having to spend so much time on Longfellow and so little on Yeats. “Why don’t we include a couple things by that Cummings fellow?” with a twinkle in the eye.

That twinkle in the eye was also how you could register the coolness of your English teacher. Let’s face it- first look at a poem by e.e. cummings and you wondered if the teacher was screwing with you. We have spent half our life learning the rules of grammar and now you’re telling us we can throw them out the window! #$%@! What’s the point?

If they really wanted to mess with you, the teacher then started calling on the “smart ones” in the class to read out loud. This worked especially well if approached with nonchalance and no preamble. Not that I’m speaking from personal experience, but it worked wonders if you wanted to see your students turn bright red (running out of breath) as they struggled to insert pauses in appropriate places. Then the wonder of wonders happened and the whole class arrives at the rhythm of the poem together. That first light of understanding, quickly followed by questions from the back row about why the poet did this.

Well, maybe he wanted to mess with high school students

E. E. Cummings

It’s interesting
how we first see the cracks in life. We spend our toddler-hood building huge walls to insulate and protect ourselves from the darkness. We spend the first years of school collaborating on a shared vision that allows us to agree on the way the world will operate. Our pre-adolescence is when we take turns standing on one another’s shoulders to see over the walls into the darkness. Mostly, we come back with reports like, “Yep, looks scary out there.” Recognition that we must gird our loins for the long haul usually drives us deep into our private communities and/or our studies.

So, it takes a pretty big fissure to make us look at all the assumptions that have gotten us that far. Plus, you need a certain willingness to see the paths not taken.

For about a minute, I loved the first cummings poem I saw because his lines were short. This was going to fly by, leaving more time for daydreaming. Rather quickly, I hated it. I was not yet jaded by all the various ways that poets paint blank pages with words, so I only knew that this guy was making it harder than it had to be.

And then the horizon moved back.

I could see a little further. Perhaps I didn’t fully comprehend the implications of what had been set in motion, but ideas had begun incubating. You see, Cummings accomplished the trifecta: he annoyed you just enough to make you argue with him; he didn’t make his art so obscure that you wanted to throw your hands in the air with exasperation; and he entertained the audience thoroughly.

What’s it all about?

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 160 more to go.

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