Allen Tate: "Personal Convention"

His uniformity is not uniformity of style. The point could be labored, but I think it is sufficient to refer the reader of Cummings to the three distinct styles of poems XVIII, LI, and LVII in Viva. He has a great many styles, and having these he has none at all--a defect concealed by his famous mechanism of distorted word and line. For a style is that indestructible quality of a piece of writing which may be distinguished from its communicable content but which in no sense can be subtracted from it: the typographical device can be seen so subtracted by simple alteration either in the direction of conventional pattern or in the direction of greater distortion. The typography is distinct from style, something superimposed and external to the poem, a mechanical system of variety and a formula of surprise; it is--and this is its function--a pseudodynamic feature that galvanizes the imagery with the look of movement, of freedom, of fresh perception, a kind of stylization which is a substitute for a living relation among the images themselves, in the lack of a living relation between the images and the sensibility of the poet. Mr. Cummings' imagery reaches the page still-born.

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...from the aggregate of Mr. Cummings' poems we return to the image of his personality: like all poets he seems to say "more" than the explicit terms convey, but this "more" lies in the origin of the poem, not in the interplay of its own terms. From To His Coy Mistress we derive no clue to the existence of such a person as "Andrew Marvell"; from Viva we get only the evidence of personality. And this is what Cummings' poetry "means." It is a kind of meaning very common at present; Mr. Cummings is the original head of an easily imitable school. This does not mean that he has ever been successfully imitated; no one else has written "personal" poetry as well as Mr. Cummings writes it. It is rather that he has shown the possibility of making personal conventions whose origin and limit are personality.

Details

Title Allen Tate: "Personal Convention" Type of Content Book Review
Criticism Author Allen Tate Criticism Target E. E. Cummings
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 03 Aug 2021
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Personal Convention
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