Maybe not so “far and wee…” after all

Courtesy of The Writer’s Almanac, yesterday was the birthday of poet e.e. cummings, known for his unusual punctuation and his way of arranging words and spaces on a page to create a rhythm for his poems. Less well known is that he was also frozen out by the literary and academic communities for being “politically incorrect”:

It’s the birthday of poet E. E. (Edward Estlin) Cummings, born in Cambridge, Massachusetts (1894), who became interested in communism as a young man and traveled to Russia to see it firsthand. He was horrified to find the theaters and museums were full of propaganda, and the people were scared to even talk to each other in public. Everyone was miserable. Cummings went home and wrote about the experience, comparing Russia to Dante’s Inferno.

His view of communism was not popular in the literary world at the time, and magazines suddenly began refusing to publish his work. For the next two decades, he had a hard time publishing his books, and he got terrible reviews when he did. Critics thought his exotic arrangements of words on the page were silly, and they said he wrote like an adolescent. Then, in 1952, his friend Archibald MacLeish got Cummings a temporary post at Harvard, giving a series of lectures. Instead of standing behind the lectern, Cummings sat on the stage, read his poetry aloud, and talked about what it meant to him. The faculty members were embarrassed by his earnestness, but the undergraduates adored him and came to his lectures in droves. He began traveling and giving readings at universities across the country, even though he suffered from terrible back pain, and had to wear a metal brace that he called an “iron maiden.” He loved performing and loved the applause, and the last 10 years of his life were the happiest.

E. E. Cummings said, “If a poet is anybody, he is somebody to whom things made matter very little — somebody who is obsessed by Making.”

Today our theaters and museums (and Nobel nominating committees) are full of propaganda and things such as so-called Fairness Doctrines and Hate Crimes proposals still try to make people afraid to talk to one another. And if your views aren’t acceptable to the gatekeepers at the Ivory Towers you won’t get invited or, if you do, you get food thrown on you.

It’s nice to see how far we’ve come.

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