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E. E. Cummings
In the early twentieth century, an unfamiliar face arose with an unusual style of writing. His name was Edward Estlin Cummings. As a young man, Cummings wrote many poems and a few plays that would later be published. He enjoyed painting, which was also a reflection of his writing, and developed a style that was unique in any time period because it defied all rules of grammar and syntax. He used ambiguity as a means to open peoples' minds and challenge their intellect and to express his dislike of Communists and liberals. Many of his works were influenced by his own life's experiences and reflected his negative attitude toward close-mindedness.
Cummings was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts on October 14, 1894. He was the son of Edward, a prominent Boston clergyman and Harvard professor, and Rebecca Haswell Clarke Cummings. Family diaries show that even at a young age Cummings had a gift for writing poetry. Rebecca encouraged his writing and even gave him games to play to keep his mind sharp and alert. Cummings' family spent their summers on Joy Farm near Silver Lake in New Hampshire. He returned there almost every summer of his life and later wrote of his childhood in many of his poems. Between the ages of eight and twenty-two, he wrote nearly a poem a day (Penberthy 118). In September 1911, he entered Harvard University. During his sophomore year, he joined the editorial board of the literary magazine, the Harvard Monthly, where he met and became close friends with Schofield Thayer, J. Sibley Watson and Stewart Mitchell (Poetry Criticism 68 and Penberthy 119). Mitchell was the managing editor of the Dial, and Thayer and Watson were the joint owners. Besides publishing his poems, they provided generous support for his paintings and poetry. While in his senior year, Cummings wrote his first highly successful poem. At his graduation ceremony, Cummings presented a term paper, "The New Art," which he had revised for the address and which was the first clear indication of his bond with modern awareness (Penberthy 119-120).
On January 1, 1917, Cummings got a job in New York at the mail-order book business for P. F. Collier . This, his first and only regular job in his lifetime, lasted only two months because he quickly became bored with office work (121). Cummings did not agree with war, but on April 7, 1917, the day after the United States entered the war, he became a volunteer for the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Service. On board the ship to Paris, he met William Slater Brown with whom he spent the war and many years afterward. After the two men arrived in Paris, they discovered that they had been separated from the other troops because the other troops had gotten off at the wrong train station. Cummings and Brown were given a five-week holiday in Paris which gave Cummings the opportunity to roam around the city getting new ideas for his poetry and paintings. When they finally rejoined the ambulance service, they soon became bored with their fellow workers and began to look toward the French soldiers as a source of companionship (Poetry Criticism 68). Because of their association with the French soldiers, Cummings and Brown came under suspicion of treason and were sent to a Depot de Triage in the Normandy town of La Ferte-Mace, where aliens suspected of espionage and undesirable activities were detained. They spent three months in a chapel-like room which gave Cummings the idea to write his first literary success, The Enormous Room. This was not the typical prison experience. Both men enjoyed the change of scenery, the separation from their compatriots and the unity among the foreign prisoners. Cummings told his parents that he was having the time of his life, but his father, outraged by his son's imprisonment, ignored Cummings' wishes and interfered to secure his son's release. Cummings was freed on December 19 and went back to his father's home in Massachusetts where he continued writing about his experiences. In February 1918, he returned to New York to continue his life as it had been in Paris and to share a studio with Brown (Penberthy 122). However, in July Cummings was drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to
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E. E. Cummings, Massachusetts culture, The Enormous Room, Tulips and Chimneys, William Slater Brown, The Dial, Scofield Thayer
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