I've been thinking lately about Cool. About cool before the concept of cool. Or before the cool people of today knew about the concept of Cool because we weren't born yet. Take E.E. Cummings in 1926, for instance, entitling his third book of poetry, in titling his fifth book as book
which must surely have been among the coolest titles of poetry books published in 1926, or in any other year for that matter.
Which is why I want to take a moment to say that I really like E.E. Cummings.
He makes verbs out of typography. He metaphors the hell out of grammar. He lets a lot of air into his sentences. (Or philosophy. Or science. Or thought. Or ego. Iconoclasm. Or humility. Or maybe he doesn't. Maybe I'm just not seeing him clearly. Readers: your thoughts?)
It's true! Sure, we probably knew his poems sounded good. But did you ever wonder why? One story I can tell you about E.E. Cummings is that he was apparently hiding a pocketful of meters and a burial plot of sonnets inside his outwardly-apparent "free verse". Marilyn Hacker broke the news to me in a conventional sonnet class. I was 25 years old and floored. Instead of "Where's Waldo?", poets with a hankering to do so, could read swaths of Cummings and ask, "Where's the buried sonnet?" She showed me some secret examples.
The Poetry Foundation web site's bio of Cummings seems to point toward confirming this. From the age of 8 to 22, Cummings practiced writing in traditional verseform. So it's no wonder, no puzzle, and no surprise that a deep canon hovered under the cannon he carried back inside his heart and mind and experience from the first world war (where, incidentally, he hung out with Pablo P. and other avant garde artists).
E.E. Cummings: a stealth formalist.
And yet, also, paradoxically, a rebel. Adam Kirsch's terrific exploration of Cummings in The Harvard Review shows a man who contained (and complained) these complexities.
Who else deserves the Too Cool for School award for titles of poetry books?