Essays and Criticism
Cumming's Notion of Unrealism
“i was sitting in mcsorley’s” is a painterly poem that embodies cummings’s idea of what he called “unrealism.” Like so many artists and writers at the beginning of the twentieth century, Cummings wanted to make his writing modern. Writing modern poetry meant to “make it new,” as Ezra Pound said. This involved challenging the status quo, which at the beginning of the twentieth century was realism and its offshoots. Realism, a literary movement rooted in the nineteenth century, uses the everyday world as its subject matter. Practitioners of literary realism considered language a tool to show readers the world as it was rather than how it should be. Realistic writing often had a reportorial feel to it. At the beginning of the twentieth century, novelists such as Virginia Woolfe, James Joyce, John Dos Passos, and others challenged this way of representing reality. In poetry, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and H. D. were similarly challenging the status quo, writing verse freed from the confines of formal diction and meter and composing a poetry in speech patterns, dense with images, whose aim was to show that the world wasn’t necessarily what people thought that it was. Cummings was part of this modern movement. Claiming that the prism, not the mirror, was the symbol of all art, cummings wrote in his unpublished notebook, which can be found at the Houghton Library, that “the goal is unrealism. The method is destructive. To break up the white light of...
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A Meditation on Love
At first glance, e. e. cummings’s poem “i was sitting in mcsorley’s barely seems to be a poem at all. Arranged not in stanzas and lines like most poems, but in paragraphs like a prose passage, the poem further baffles many readers with its bizarre spelling and punctuation. Much of the poem seems to be an incomprehensible run-on sentence, the words following one another with no apparent logic. Once a reader puts aside his or her expectations of what a poem should look like, however, “i was sitting in mcsorley’s” is revealed to be not only a deeply poetic piece of writing but a poem with a strong connection to the rest of cummings’s work.
Throughout his long career in American poetry, cummings was know for his unorthodox style of punctuation, capitalization, and spelling. He would often leave the first letter of a line in one of his poems uncapitalized, while capitalizing a word in the middle of the line. Words would run into each other or be separated by long spaces. Lines would break in unexpected places. Cummings used these methods to bring a freshness and sense of excitement to his poems. By using such novel arrangements of his text, he also created new stresses and tensions in his poetry that would have been impossible to achieve using ordinary arrangements of words. In this way, he was following the lead of the American poet Walt Whitman, whose long lines managed to capture the exuberant rush produced by saying each line in a single deep...
(The entire section is 1566 words.)