May 22, 2012

e.e. cummings, "[in Just]": Notes on Experimentation and Spring

[in Just-] by E. E. Cummings : The Poetry Foundation

Detroit Riverwalk

Central Ohio, Rt. 4, when the world is mud-luscious and puddle wonderful

I guess I’ve been posting spring-y photos without labeling them as such and without adding spring-y poems. So before the season is over, here’s a work about spring. I did a half-hearted search for a piece that was new to both B52, but decided nothing matched E.E. Cummings’ “In Just.” It’s been here before. Can you forgive me? 

Speaking of forgiveness, I have a hard time forgiving poets (or wannabes?) since Cummings who think they’re being terribly, terribly avant garde by screwing with capitalization, grammar, punctuation, and word invention. They are usually young beginners, but they still need to be aware that Cummings was experimenting in those areas in the 1920s. It was meaningfully new then, a breakthrough, pepper spray in the eye of the establishment—and more importantly, a new way of seeing and presenting experience. 
Stage Nature Center, Michigan, late April
Well, folks, that was a century ago, more or less. If you want to be new, just to be new, then you need to . . . be new. You know? You need to try something else, for a good reason. Sonnets can still work; see the A.E. Stallings poem a couple of posts ago. So try to be new only if it’s an improvement on the tradition and only if it means seeing and expressing experience more effectively. Otherwise, you’re just wearing the poetic equivalent of a trendy four-day growth of beard; it looks dumb and accomplishes nothing.

By the way, I think that when I like and respect Cummings, which is surprisingly often, it is to some extent in spite of his challenges to the tradition, not because of them. Some of his imagery—and “In Just” is a case in point—is fresh and compelling all these years later. And it would still be fresh and compelling in more standard formatting, though I think his new lineation and other visual experiments do add to many of the poems’ purposes.

[in Just-] by E. E. Cummings : The Poetry Foundation


Jean Spitzer said...

I'm undoubtedly less knowledgeable and also less critical of poems, but it seems to me that any poem has to be more than inventive of form, and that even the most innovative form of poem will be eclipsed by a poem derivative in form that has content of great meaning to the individual reading it.

Adam said...

Its hard for me to find good poems. Outside the greats like frost and whitman

PJ said...

Tra la la, I feel like dancing after reading this poem. We're having such lovely weather and I'm spending long hours outside getting dirty and sweaty. It's Just fine.

Anonymous said...

Good timing. I've been meeting with some writing friends, to read. And one choice was Our Town. Which came in for some clobbering, but only I think because it's hard to imagine that when Wilder did what he did, no one, but no one, had ever done it before. Now, a century's worth of imitations get in the way.

My favorite e.e. is Who Knows If the Moon's a Balloon.

RuneE said...

Far too deep for me of course, but I fell for the non-standard format, and the apparently accidental distribution of lines, words, spaces and the content of each of these. I got an instant impression of spring.

As I got from your photos - especially No.2.

Banjo52 said...

Jean, sounds like we agree. You and PA, in the art world is there newness for its own sake? And is there some payoff for it from the experts? I'm betting yes.

Adam, and anyone else, always try the Poetry Foundation ( )
or Academy of American Poets ( At either place, you can simply type in a subject--such as spring--or a poet's name, or a poem title, and get lots of results. Good commentary about poets and poetry at both places too.

Paula, as long as you Just feel free and muddy about it.

AH, it's an interesting and sometimes sad issue, isn't it. I don't know your cummings fave, but will look it up. When he's good, he's really good. I have a young colleague (grad of a prestigious college) who was surprised to hear my impression that we "scholars" were expected to look down on e.e., compared, say, to Eliot or Auden. So maybe The Academy is loosening up in yet another way (permitting students to admire cummings--tho' they tend to go all white or black, like the rest of humanity. I've never understood what's wrong with grey, as long as it can argue well for NOT being black or white.

Rune, I disagree that it's too deep for you. I'd say you're off to a great start on the poem--unless we're both wrong, and I don't think that's the case. I'd say your "Apparently accidental distribution" . . . and "instant impression" are right on the money.

Banjo52 said...

Paula, tra la la is good, but be sure to whistle as well, and say "wee" a lot.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

It seems that Cummings was within the zeitgeist of his time. Wordplay that was shortly thereafter institutionalized in the dada movement of WW1.

I will repeat my oft said mantra (that "I" only see the brilliance of) In my world the powers that be eat their young - the young eat their father's and resurrect their grandfathers. Your young colleague may be resurrecting the father you needed to kill.

btw: I liked the Moons a Balloon

( *_*)
(> )>

my new poem

PJ said...

B52, it's a given that anyone who says tra la la goes "Weeeee!" every chance they get.

I can't help but notice how serious the discussion but, hey, it's Sring and time's a-wastin'!

Banjo52 said...

PA, I've never read about Cummings and Dadaism. It makes sense for his most extreme poems, but many, many others (like "In Just") seem much more coherent than what I understand Dada to argue.

Your theory of generations--I'd need to hear more detail, but it seems to make sense. Just consider how often grandparents get along with their young better than the parents do.

The real and symbolic parents seem fixated on setting up trials and barriers for their offspring--from pointless little wars to arcane, bigoted schools of literary theory. They do want to eat their young, so the young fight back. Am I in the ball park?

Or course, there are now the new yuppie helicopter parents . . . naming their kids Cedar and Granite and Henry. Sometimes I consider siring some more--twins--and naming them Brawt and Wurst or Weiner and DeepFried. Hash and Browns. Onion and Pepper. Mushroom and Swiss. Butter and I Can't Believe It Isn't Butter. Pop and Corn.

Help me, I can't stop.

Stone and High. Wine and Cheese.

Paula, you're too dirty to be properly solemn. Wash up, dump that Weeeee, and get serious.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

"Am I in the ball park?" kind of, sort of, maybe.....
but as brilliant as I am, I'm much more amused at your rambling interpretation. Hysterical - I call my peers children, the bubble wrap generation.

Yeah Paula, time to jump in the tub

Ken Mac said...

heavy gravy yea!

Banjo52 said...

Helicopters full of bubble wrap.

Ken, you should drop by Ben and Joy's in Mt. Sterling.

Paula, clean yet?

Kelly said...

...I always loved "mud-
luscious" and "puddle-wonderful" in that poem! Thanks for reminding me of it. I haven't read it in years.

Jean Spitzer said...

PA, I love your new poem.

And I like the ee cummings/ dada connection you suggest.

Banjo52 said...

Kelly and Jean, that's good news--just what I hope for. This seems to be one of his most anthologized poems.

Brenda's Arizona said...

I like "mud-
Makes me want to change my name to Isbel and make mudpies. Just as an experiment, that is.

Banjo52 said...

Brenda, I bet I think of "mud-luscious" at least once every spring. I wouldn't mind being an Eddie, but I've lost any interest I may have had in mud pies.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

At last!!! I'm not pissing in the wind. Reread my earlier comment - I read this article that really put into words those things I've been trying to articulate for years.,0,4650823.story

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