R. P. Blackmur: Review of 50 Poems

Mr. Cummings' poems depend entirely upon what they create in process, only incidentally upon what their preliminary materials or intentions may have been. Thus, above all, there is a prevalent quality of uncertainty, of uncompleted possibility, both in the items and in the fusion of the items which make up the poems; but there is also the persistent elementary eloquence of intension--of things struggling, as one says crying, to be together, and to make something of their togetherness which they could never exhibit separately or in mere series. The words, the meanings in the words, and also the nebula of meaning and sound and pun around the words, are all put into an enlivening relation to each other. There is, to employ a word which appealed to Hart Crane in similar contexts, a sense of synergy in all the successful poems of Mr. Cummings: synergy is the condition of working together with an emphasis on the notion of energy in the working, and energy in the positive sense, so that one might say here that Mr. Cummings' words were energetic. The poems are, therefore, eminently beyond paraphrase, not because they have no logical content--for they do, usually very simple--but because so much of the activity is apart from that of logical relationships, is indeed in associations free of, though not alien to, logical associations. In short, they create their objects.

...I have been one of his admirers for twenty-one years since I first saw his poetry in the Dial; and it may be that my admiration has gone up and down so many hills that it is a little fagged and comes up to judgment with entirely too many reservations. Yet I must make them, and hope only that the admiration comes through.

First, there is the big reservation that, contrary to the general belief and contrary to what apparently he thinks himself, Mr. Cummings is not...an experimental poet at all....

My second reservation...has to do with his vocabulary, which seems to me at many crucial points so vastly over-generalized as to prevent any effective mastery over the connotations they are meant to set up as the substance of his poems....

My third reservation is minor, and has to do with the small boy writing privy inscriptions on the wall; a reservation which merely to state is sufficiently to expound. Some of the dirt perhaps comes under the head of the poetry of gesture, and some perhaps is only the brutality of disgust. My complaint is meant to be technical; most of the dirt is not well enough managed to reach the level of either gesture or disgust, but remains, let us say, coprophiliac which is not a technical quality.


Title R. P. Blackmur: Review of 50 Poems Type of Content Book Review
Criticism Author R. P. Blackmur Criticism Target E. E. Cummings
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 04 Aug 2021
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Review of 50 poems
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