It is something of a surprise to see the name of the subject of this book printed in a conventional way: for most of his appearances in print it was resolutely ‘e e cummings’, all of a piece with the lack of capitalisation, the experimental layout and the visual idiosyncrasy of his writings.
Despite the seemingly avant-garde nature of his work, Cummings was, at the end of his life, famous and widely read, probably because he was a relatively simple poet whose meaning is usually plain once his manner and methods are understood. The man revealed by the work is impulsive, obsessed by beauty, disgusted by cruelty, and not afraid to be sentimental occasionally. The man in Christopher Sawyer-Lauçanno’s book, written with the aid of Cummings’s own papers and journals, is more complex and rather less attractive.
Edward Estlin Cummings was born in 1894. Both parents came from solid, deep-rooted New England stock. His father was an Instructor at Harvard, and the family lived in a large house opposite that of William James. His first recorded spoken word was ‘Hurrah’ – a suitable beginning for one whose