You can find new stories here. In 1957, on television’s Night Beat, Mike Wallace asked William Carlos Williams if he thought that E. Over the course of a 45-year career, Cummings wrote many traditional poems, at least poems that teenagers poem look like poems if viewed at arm’s length. In the long revolt against inherited forms that has by now become the narrative of 20th-century poetry in English, no poet was more flamboyant or more recognizable in his iconoclasm than Cummings.
That said, determining Cummings’ influence and his present stature in the poetry world calls for a more measured view. Some honor Cummings as the granddaddy of all American innovators in poetry and ascribe to him a diverse progeny that includes virtually any poet who considers the page a field and allows silence to be part of poetry’s expressiveness. The life of Edward Estlin Cummings began with a childhood in Cambridge, Mass. Cummings’ career as a writer—and a painter—was as wobbly as his love life. He tried his hand at playwriting, satirical essays, and even a dance scenario for Lincoln Kirsten. Finding book publishers was an ongoing challenge, and his critical reception was uneven at best. Several major collections, however, advanced his reputation, and by the last decade of his life, Cummings had become a poetry star.
His contracts for public readings—usually sellouts—even included “rules of engagement” meant to protect him from the throng of his fans. He would plan his escape through a “secretbackentrance. His books, particularly the hefty Poems 1923-1954 sold hotly for poetry. Since then, his reputation has suffered enough of a falling off to raise the question of what happened to his hard-won fame.
Cummings himself called his poems “inaudible. No one else wrote like Cummings, and Cummings wrote like no one else” is how the poet’s latest biographer, Christopher Sawyer-Laucanno, delivers the bad and good news in E. And a prescient Harriet Monroe tempered her praise by warning, “But beware his imitators! These days Cummings is rarely mentioned.