Nothing was wrong with Cummings—or Duchamp or Stravinsky or Joyce, for that matter. All were trying to slow down the seemingly inexorable rush of the world, to force people to notice their own lives. In the 21st century, that rush has now reached Force Five; we are all inundated with information and given no time to wonder what it means or where it came from. Access without understanding and facts without context have become our daily diet.
Whether you admire the work of e.e. cummings or think of him mainly as the inspiration for your high school’s worst poet, you’ll enjoy this excerpt of Susan Cheever’s new biography, which touches on the poet’s later years and his relationship with Cheever’s father. The two (contrasting) money quotes here are Malcolm Cowley’s claim that cummings was “the most brilliant monologuist I have known” and this exasperated question posed by Helen Vendler: “What is wrong with a man who writes this?