E. E. Cummings (Edward Estlin Cummings) Biography
(1894–1962), (Edward Estlin Cummings), The Enormous Room, Tulips and Chimneys, Dial, XLI Poems, VV (ViVa)
American poet and graphic artist, born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, educated at Harvard. In 1917 he volunteered for service in France with the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps. A censor's confusion over remarks in his letters led to his imprisonment for three months on suspicion of treasonable activity. The interlude formed the basis of his widely acclaimed first book, The Enormous Room (1922), which set the tone for most of his work in its iconoclastic testimony to radical individualism. Tulips and Chimneys (1923) was the first of his collections of verse. The Dial awarded him its annual poetry prize in 1925, the year in which the publication of XLI Poems and & enhanced his already considerable reputation. His idiosyncratic poetic forms advanced the free-verse modes given currency by Imagism to new levels of typographical ingenuity. Sophisticated punning, evocative verbal coinages, and the audacious use of vernacular idioms are also characteristic of his poetry. His ethos of individuality formed the basis for many satires against the collective mentality of political authorities; notable examples include ‘Thanksgiving’ and ‘Kumrads die because they're told’, respectively directed at the governments of the USA and USSR. The erotic candour in many of his poems made him a figure of controversy, although his deftness obviated any recourse to the vocabulary traditionally identifying literature as pornographic. His subsequent collections include VV (ViVa) (1931), No Thanks (1935), 1 × 1 (1944), and 95 Poems (1958). He exhibited widely as a graphic artist and published CIOPW in 1931, the letters of the title respectively representing his chosen media of charcoal, ink, oils, pencil, and watercolour. HIM (1927) and Santa Claus (1946), which anticipate the drama of the absurd in their estranging comic and symbolic strategies, are his principal works for theatre. Complete Poems: 1910–1962 was published in 1980. Dreams in the Mirror (1980) is a biography of Cummings by R. S. Kennedy.