I originally posted this over at Goodreads, but thought I'd post my waffling on here too, to make up for the sudden dearth of blogging!
e.e. cummings has been my favourite poet since high school. I carry a 'selected poems' around in my handbag (for emergencies), but it's always interesting to revisit a whole book, rather than just what someone else thought was a 'best of'. You get standout poems that don't make it into other collections, alongside lesser ones. Xaipe (pronounced "Khai-er-ree" to rhyme with 'fiery') means 'rejoice' in Greek, and the collection is often movingly joyous.
Cummings sometimes gets accused of being sentimental, deliberately impossible to read, and even casually racist. I can see how he could be read thus.
But I think his playfulness rescues him from sentimentality (I adore his poems about children):
if a cheerfulest Elephantangelchild should sit
(holding a red candle over his head
by a finger of trunk,and singing out of a red
book)on a proud round cloud in a white high night
where his heartlike ears have flown adorable him
self tail and all(and his tail's red christmas bow)
--and if,when we meet again,little he(having flown
even higher)is sunning his penguinsoul in the glow
of a joy which wasn't and isn't and won't be words
while possibly not(at a guess)quite half way down
to the earth are leapandswooping tinily birds
whose magical gaiety makes your beautiful name--
i feel that(false and true are merely to know)
Love only has ever been,is,and will ever be,So
His impossibility - shredded/recombined words and absurd punctuation litters his poems - suits the way I read poetry. I just read it headlong, straight through the first time, not pausing over words, punctuation or to try think or match up the parentheses. And interestingly when I go back for a second look, the image I've got the first time around usually still stands up. Try it yourself:
the little horse is newlY
Born)he knows nothing,and feels
everything;all around whom is
perfectly a strange
light and of fragrance and of
ing dream:is amazing)
a worlD.and in
this world lies:smoothbeautifuL
thing a gro
Cummings himself responded to the racist controversy (mainly around his line "a kike is the most dangerous") in typically cryptic fashion:
'Cummings' "Good American point," as he told Allen Tate, was "that the kike isn't(helas) a Jew..." (but is an invention of Gentile society).' (quote from the inner flyleaf of Xaipe).
I loved revisiting Xaipe. It's flawed and joyous and sometimes extremely funny:
o to be in finland
now that russia's here)
(pass the freedoms pappy or
uncle shylock not interested
Additionally, when I re-read it, a copy of poem by Gwendolyn Brooks that I had been trying to remember for ages (When You Have Forgotten Sunday: The Love Story) fell out - I'd been using it as a bookmark! Brilliant.