A discussion of punctuation, especially in poetry, will cheerfully consider the example of Edward Estlin Cummings, a.k.a. E. E. Cummings or “e e cummings.”
The lower-case, unpunctuated “e e cummings” is popular because it is so well-known and so unorthodox. However, E. E. Cummings himself did not always use that form.
In the following discussion, the horizontal rules indicate a new speaker.
In deforming punctuation, was cummings trying to be obscure and make his verse unintelligible? And is his poetry, in fact, obscure and unintelligible because of it? I think he was up to something else...
Do you acknowledge any artistic (and motivational) differences between, say, the very early Rolling Stones and the short-lived Sex Pistols? (I choose those examples very carefully ...)
and anyway noone has said a
word against the maestro mr
cummings who anyway used the period after each of his es as
in e. e. and a capital c for cummings to boot and i would never dare
to anyway just in
lowercase he was to jump up out of the
grave and hit
me on the
nose cos it would hurt capitally
Cummings died in 1962, and I didn’t really become aware of his writing until much later. It’s interesting that although I’ve never studied his work, I’ve never had any problem understanding it.
He punctuates. He does it differently. Uses parentheses instead of commas and line breaks instead of periods. Cummings didn’t create chaos; he created a new language and he did capitalize certain words... important words like “Women.”
Not long ago I read Cummings’ "anyone lived in a pretty how town." I really like that poem. It follows its own form, but there is a form and it’s easy to see.
The problem with some of the writers who experiment with form is that do so at the expense of substance. Or maybe the problem is that there ain’t no substance.
It’s fine to experiment with form; I’m not criticizing. We need to have a game plan in mind and a deep respect for the art. If we choose to be writers, communication is all-important. It doesn’t matter how we break it up or how we decipher it, but ultimately it has to hang together and make sense.
It’s okay to break the rules — as long as we know what the rules are and how breaking them can make communication clearer. But I think it’s arrogant to think we can write any way we want to, without consideration for the reader.
In my early days of theatrical training, I learned an important lesson: when it comes to the arts — any art — the key ingredient is humility. It’s surprising what the eye can see, what the heart can feel, what the mind can create when we abandon our ego and just tell the story. And this doesn’t mean that we should abandon our personal quest for style. It just needs to follow reason.
We’ve explained pretty well why we feel strongly about form in the submissions we regularly receive. Some contributors use standard forms to best advantage, while others make good use of innovation. Alas, some seek unorthodoxy for its own sake.
Oonah’s explication makes a strong case for abandoning punctuation in “Clear Sailing.” Now, any poem that stands on a footnote is doomed before it’s written. But Oonah may not have needed to explain; if not, so much the better. In the end, the Challenge question — “Would standard punctuation help or distract the reader?” — will be answered by all readers in their own way.
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