Skip to main content

There are a number of poems in is 5 which are delightful for sheer appalling cleverness.... It is notable that in all this group...there are scarcely a dozen poems which imply any emotion other than laughter. They are full of boisterous energy, and seem to have been written with great gusto, but they are external, clear of all comment, all overtones, save laughter, the most external of the emotions. Often they communicate no intensity but that of the writer working excitedly with his words. This poet never reveals his inward emotional self while he is aware of the present century. The picture he gives of his own time is invariably vivid, and almost invariably unpleasant. He goes out to it with all the energy of his mind, but his inner self withdraws and preserves itself remote and immune. As in the later work of Joyce, there is a strenuous effort to meet all manifestations of externality without flinching; an effort to say yes to the world without establishing a profound inner connection. The resultant world-of-the-poems is a lurid place inhabited by thugs, policemen, Greek restauranteurs, pimps and prostitutes, drug addicts, crooked politicians, and an occasional stupid business man. This cast of characters has certainly not been chosen for its startling effect. The most startling character Mr. Cummings could offer at the present moment of American literature would be an intelligent and likable business man, who has no urge to be an artist. Perhaps the building of a peculiarly selected poem-world is necessary to poets nowadays, to form a callus upon their spirits and protect them from empirical harshness.