“It takes courage to grow up and be who you really are.” ~ E.E. Cummings (1894-1962)
It’s his fault I sign my name in lower case. Ever since I first encountered his “little lame balloon man” in high school, Cummings has remained one of my top five favorite poets of all time.
I find it interesting that while he loved to experiment wildly with form, diction and syntax, his subjects were pretty traditional — nature (especially Spring), childhood, and love. He was such a great champion of individuality, someone who believed poetry was a process rather than a product, and since he was also a painter, it makes perfect sense that he created poems as visual objects on the page. How could I not love such an out and out lyricist who toyed with typography? A playful innovator with a joyous childlike perception, Cummings infused his poetry with his own brand of vitality that never loses its freshness.
To celebrate his 117th birthday, I did a little sleuthing to find out what Cummings liked to eat. Apparently he was a late riser who ate large breakfasts (I’m right with him there), and he also enjoyed Middle Eastern food. A menu from Khoury’s, a fave Syrian restaurant, is among the documents in the collection of Cummings papers held by the New York Public Library. Here’s an excerpt from Christopher Sawyer-Lauçanno’s biography quoting Cummings’s Harvard buddy John Dos Passos:
Cummings and I would occasionally lunch together at a Syrian restaurant [Khoury’s] he frequented down on Washington Street. We would eat a special clabber known as leben and a marvelous dish of raw eggplant mashed to a paste with sesame oil . . . Afterward we’d roam around the vegetable and flower stalls of the Old Washington Market or go to see the fish at the Aquarium down at the Battery. Cummings never tired of drawing sealions. As he walked he would be noting down groups of words or little scribbly sketches on bits of paper. Both of us lived as much for the sights we saw as for the sound of words.
So it would seem a little shish kebab and baba ghanoush are in order today:
Yes, there was wine, good food, painting in the afternoon and writing in the evening. But did Cummings ever write about food? I couldn’t think of any poems offhand, but was happy when I stumbled across this rollicking song he wrote for a musical comedy he was working on in the 1950’s. To my utter delight, it mentions — *wait for it* — SOUP! Just another reason to love him ☺.
I’m very fond of
fond of black
Yes i’m very fond
of black bean soup)But
i don’t disdain
Gimme gin&bitters to
bitters to open
Yes gimme gin&bitters
to open my eyes(But
i’ll take straight rum as
Nothing like a blonde for
blonde for ruining
Yes nothing like a blonde
for ruining the blues)But
i use redheads for
Parson says a sinner will
perish in the
sinner will perish
in the flames
Yes parson says a sinner
will perish in the flames)But
i reckon that’s better
Everybody’s dying to be
dying to be some
Yes everybody’s dying
to be someone else)But
i’ll live my life if
~ from Etcetera: The Unpublished Poems of E E Cummings edited by George James Firmage and Richard S. Kennedy (Liverlight, 1983).
Don’t you find yourself automatically assigning a tune to those lyrics? The song was meant to be sung by a group of baggy-trousered tramps and nude chorus girls. Ooh-la-la. That Estlin!
Thanks to him, I made my first pot of Black Bean Soup, using Dave Lieberman’s recipe. Yum! Can’t go wrong with smoked bacon, tomatoes, onions, chili powder and cilantro! It is your poetic duty to make some this weekend ☺.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Cummings!
and eddieandbill come running from marbles and piracies and it’s spring. . .
♥ Today’s Poetry Friday Roundup is being hosted by the dashing and debonair lower cased david elzey at FOMAGRAMS. He may or may not be wearing baggy trousers. I, for one, am wearing my birthday suit and still hope to someday be in the chorus.
♥ Related Post: “The Poet and the Painter,” a discussion of Cummings’s ability to synthesize poetry and art.
Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.