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True Lives: A Portrait of e.e. cummings at Vanity Fair

By Harriet Staff


Susan Cheever’s father, the novelist John Cheever, looked up to e.e. cummings as a trusted advisor in his youthful Greenwich Village days. Susan, a teenager in Westchester, was miserable at her “uptight girls school” until cummings came to town. Read her account of that experience excerpted here, and at Vanity Fair.

During the last years of his life E. E. Cummings made a modest living on the high-school lecture circuit. In the spring of 1958 his schedule took him to read his adventurous poems at the uptight girls’ school in Westchester where I was a miserable 15-year-old sophomore with failing grades.

I vaguely knew that Cummings had been a friend of my father (the novelist John Cheever), who loved to tell stories about Cummings’s gallantry and his ability to live elegantly on almost no money—an ability my father himself struggled to cultivate. When my father was a young writer in New York City, in the golden days before marriage and children pressured him to move to the suburbs, the older Cummings had been his beloved friend and adviser.

On that cold night in 1958, Cummings was near the end of his celebrated and controversial 40-year career as this country’s first popular modernist poet. Primarily remembered these days for its funky punctuation, his work was in fact a wildly ambitious attempt at creating a new way of seeing the world through language—and this even applied to his signature. The progression from Cummings’s official name (Edward Estlin Cummings) to his signature as a Harvard undergrad (E. Estlin Cummings) to the emblem for which he became famous (e. e. cummings) began with his use of a lowercase i in his poems in the 1920s, though he wouldn’t adopt the style officially until the late 50s. […]

Continue at Vanity Fair.

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Posted in Poetry News on Thursday, January 30th, 2014 by Harriet Staff.