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the joy and rebellion of e.e. cummings

Susan Cheever on the poet e.e. cummings, all lower-case, and radical.

Poet e.e. cummings, pictured on the cover of Susan Cheever's new biography, "E.E. Cummings: A Life." (Random House)

Poet e.e. cummings, pictured on the cover of Susan Cheever’s new biography, “E.E. Cummings: A Life.” (Random House)

In the mid-20th century, right behind Robert Frost, e. e. cummings was the most widely read poet in the United States.  A generation of school children delighted in his impish, rule-breaking, all lower case poems.  “there are so many tictoc clocks everywhere telling people what toctic time it is,” he wrote, and impish kids got it.  It was a sweet invitation to rebellion.  He was not always sweet.  There was anger too.  And more sex than school kids ever knew.  This hour On Point:  Susan Cheever on America’s lower case rebel poet modernist, e. e. cummings.

— Tom Ashbrook

Guest

Susan Cheever, writer and author of “E.E. Cummings: A Life.” Also author of “Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography,” “Desire: Where Sex Meets Addiction,” “American Bloomsbury,” and “Home Before Dark.” (@susancheever)

From Tom’s Reading List

Vanity Fair: The Prince of Patchin Place — “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.”

The Wall Street Journal: Book Review: ‘E.E. Cummings’ by Susan Cheever — “”Susan Cheever met Cummings, who was a friend of her father, the writer John Cheever, but her book never quite makes its ambitions clear. She provides a narrative synthesis of the three previous biographies by Charles Norman (1958), Richard S. Kennedy (1980) and Christopher Sawyer-Lauçanno (2004), outlining the poet’s life from childhood to death. She plays with the chronology of events, beginning at nearly the end, then circling back as a novelist might to find the poet’s beginnings, yet the book offers virtually no new research and has little to say about Cummings’s working life.”

Cleveland Plain Dealer: Susan Cheever elegantly blends biography, memoir and cultural history in ‘E. E. Cummings: A Life’ — “At Harvard, Peck’s Bad Boy replaced the Little Lord Fauntleroy in Cummings, and Cummings père, a local minister, was not pleased. In college, Cummings fils discovered the allures of alcohol and sex, wrote for student publications and would soon begin the experiments with punctuation, capitalization, grammar and line spacing that still make his work immediately recognizable.”

Read An Excerpt From “E.E. Cummings: A Life” By Susan Cheever

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