E. E. Cummings

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Student Question

What is E.E. Cummings' poem "kitty sixteen 5'11 white prostitute" about?

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This poem, convoluted and abbreviated in typical Cummings style, is a homage to individuality, a portrait of Kitty herself, and an admonishment to her “Johns” – a description of the less obvious benefits of associating with girls of ill repute. Cummings is looking at the real 16 year-old person, past the automatic assumptions of her occupation, to the real human being underneath one’s first public impression. Cummings is saying that the real pleasures of her company are the innocent smiles (“skilled in quick softness. Unspontaneous. cute.”), the gentle touches, the vulnerability of her presence – a noble homage to all individuality. “Art is looking at things carefully,” Cummings asserts, and here he has turned the mundane obvious impression into art, by looking carefully at this 16-year-old life “whose least amazing smile is the most great/ common divisor of unequal souls.”  Cummings' sensitivity, even grace, is displayed in these kinds of works -- a nonjudgmental, sensitive soul under the superficial grammatical variation in his expression.

You might also want to look at “Maggie and Millie and Molly and May,” another portrait of the humans behind their superficial identities.

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