Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Emerald Tablets of E. E. Cummings

I first read E. E. Cummings years ago.  It was in The Joy of Sex, which is only apropos since it was a love poem. 

i like my body when it is with your
body.  It is so quite new a thing.
muscles better and nerves more. 

I was, of course, instantly mesmerized.
He used nouns and adjectives in new ways, teaching the words to live, breathe, and bend in ways that they never knew they were supple enough to manage before.  He was a magician.  In his hands, words were transformed, and became performance artists in their own right. 

i like your body.  i like what it does,
i like its hows.  i like to feel the spine
of your body and its bones, and the trembling

I read that same poem again and again.  It reminded me strongly of Howl in the way its words ached and danced, naked in their broken rhythms.  But where Ginsberg threw a brick through the glass wall of what a poem and its subjects were supposed to be, Cummings simply dissolved the definitions that otherwise might have bound his work.  In the alchemy of the written word, he was master of Coagula and Solve both, and he blended language and leaden image to create something golden and magnificent.

-firm-smooth ness and which i will
again and again and again
kiss,  i like kissing this and that of you,

He left his I uncapitalized.  But rather than being awkward, it was somehow elegant, worshipful and moving.  He broke his sentences however he pleased, but that just bound the Flow more firmly to his voice.  His punctuation followed no sense or reason, save for how his heart knew the words should read.  He didn’t even give his poems titles.  Rather he just let them wander nameless, bastards but never orphans, and let them speak of their own worth.  In short, he broke just about every rule by which a poem is supposed to be written, defied those who would master him.  And in his own mastery, he made it work.

i like, slowly stroking the, shocking fuzz
of your electric fur, and what-is-it comes
over parting flesh.… And eyes big love-crumbs,

            When Alice tried to correct Humpty-Dumpty’s speech in Lewis Carrol’s magnificent work, Humpty challenged her assertion. 
'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'
'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'
'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master — that's all.'

and possibly i like the thrill

of under me you so quite new

E. E. Cummings was, without a doubt, the master.  Bruce Lee, in The Tao of Kung Fu, speaks of the necessity of this.  He makes it quite clear:

“ . . . From this centerline I was able to construct a nucleus and, later on, establish such things as out-of-line and broken rhythm counterattack.  Thus my theory states: 
1.      Learn the center.
2.      Keep the center.
3.      Dissolve the center.
Or, it can be stated more generally:
1.      Learn the rules.
2.      Keep the rules.
3.      Dissolve the rules.”

All art is expression.  Be it written, sculpted, martial or sung aloud, is only worthy when it allows for the honest expression of the self.  And that expression truly becomes glorious only when it comes from understanding, mastery . . . and, ultimately, dissolution.

i like my body when it is with your
body.  It is so quite new a thing.
Muscles better and nerves more.
i like your body.  i like what it does,
i like its hows.  i like to feel the spine
of your body and its bones, and the trembling
-firm-smooth ness and which i will
again and again and again
kiss,  i like kissing this and that of you,
i like, slowly stroking the, shocking fuzz
of your electric fur, and what-is-it comes
over parting flesh.… And eyes big love-crumbs,

and possibly i like the thrill

of under me you so quite new

     e. e. cummings          

It is from the Master’s dissolution that all greatness comes.
            --Coyote.

1 comment:

  1. As we discussed the other day, I am rediscovering e.e. cummings. "listen: there's a hell of a good universe next door; let's go." Ready when you are.

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