Skip to content

EE Cummings: The Innovative American Poet

Full Name Edward Estlin Cummings
Birthday October 14, 1894
Birthplace Cambridge, Massachusetts
Death Date September 3, 1962
Spouse Elaine Orr
Children 2 daughters
Occupation Poet, Painter, Playwright
Notable Works "Tulips and Chimneys," "The Enormous Room," "Xaipe"

As a lifelong fan, I‘m delighted to share more on one of history‘s most innovative poetic voices – the great EE Cummings. Known for his radical experimentation with language and delivery, Cummings reshaped what poetry could be.

Upbringing That Nurtured Creativity

Born in 1894 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Cummings grew up in an intellectually stimulating home. His father Edward, a Harvard professor, observed his son‘s early creativity and encouraged him to keep a daily journal from age 8. This built his habit of documenting experiences and expressing himself through writing from a young age.

In childhood, Cummings also discovered a love of visual art. His mother Rebecca was supportive of his artistic inclinations, and he went on to study art formally. The interplay between writing and visual arts would come to define his career.

Finding His Voice at Harvard

In 1911, Cummings enrolled at Harvard University where he immersed himself in poetry and befriended other creative writers including John Dos Passos. Drawn to modern styles like cubism and symbolism, Cummings was already testing literary boundaries. His controversial 1915 graduation speech, which critiqued Harvard‘s instructional methods, foreshadowed his break from tradition.

War Time Experiences Shape Early Writings

After graduation, Cummings volunteered as an ambulance driver in France during World War I. These wartime experiences provided inspiration for some of Cummings‘ earliest published poetry. In his collection "The Enormous Room" (1922), Cummings experimented with fragmentary structure and unconventional punctuation to convey the chaos and trauma of war.

Settling in New York City‘s Avant-Garde Scene

Returning home, Cummings settled in New York City‘s Greenwich Village where he self-published his first collection "Tulips and Chimneys" in 1923. The unusual capitalization, grammar, structure and visual spacing in poems like "All in green went my love riding" exemplified the modernist poetic techniques he would become known for.

Cummings was firmly embedded in the avant-garde literary and arts scene flourishing in 1920s New York. These influences are evident in his subsequent collections like "XLI Poems" (1925) and "Is 5" (1926) which showcase his increasing willingness to buck convention through linguistic experimentation.

Paris Inspires Prolific Output

In the late 1920s, Cummings traveled to Paris seeking inspiration from the modernist movement thriving there. Surrounded by the works of Picasso, Cézanne, and Dadaists, Cummings‘ poetry became more playful and visually inventive. Collections like "ViVa" (1931) and "No Thanks" (1935) feature his freest uses of grammar and punctuation in the service of feeling and imagination.

This fertile Paris period also produced some of Cummings‘ most acclaimed erotic poetry, inspired by affairs like his relationship with Marie Laurencin. The intimacy and frank sexuality of these love poems represented a break from the more constrained poetry preceding them.

Beloved Poetry Rebel

By the 1930s, Cummings had become one of America‘s most popular poets. He spent much of the 1940s dividing time between writing children‘s books, delivering whimsical college lectures, and producing avant-garde poems.

Later renowned collections like "Xaipe: Seventyone Poems" (1950) and "95 Poems" (1958) showcase Cummings‘ continued willingness to reinvent poetic language right up until his death from a stroke in 1962.

Through constant linguistic risk-taking, Cummings left an indelible mark on 20th century poetry. His unique syntax, punctuation, spacing and fragmentation opened doors to new poetic expression. Though controversial in his time, Cummings is now rightly celebrated as one of our most important modernist pioneers.


Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *