All too often, when we read a story or a piece of poetry, we have no idea who the author is or what kind of life he or she lived or is living. I chose to review today's poetry book because it gives readers some poems to read, of course, but it also gives readers a picture of what the poet who wrote those poems was like. I found that this format helped me appreciate the poems all the more.
E. E. Cummings: A Poet's Life
For ages 12 and up
Clarion Books, 2006, 978-0618568499
Many of us imagine that poets are gentle souls who are quiet, bookish people living safe and secluded lives. Edward Estlin Cummings was not such a person at all . It is true that he began to write poetry from a very early age, and he did read a great deal, but he also believed that it was essential for a person to experience life to the fullest. He therefore traveled a great deal, he was a red-cross driver during World War I, and he insisted that he should do his duty when he was called up to be a soldier during that same war, even though he was a pacifist. Summings also left the comfort of his home in New England to live in Greenwich Village in New York City, where he could share in the lives of fellow writers, painters, poets, and thinkers. He did not want a life of safety and sameness. He wanted to feel and discover, he wanted to stretch himself.
And this is just what he did. He also stretched the boundaries of poetry in ways that no one had seen before. Estlin changed all the rules, removing punctuation, capitalizations, the form of the words on the page, and so much more. He challenged his readers to look at the words in a whole new way and he made them think about his ideas. Some people loved what he created. Others could not stand his radically different concepts. Why, they asked, did he make his words slide across the page in that messy way? Why did he use the lower case i all the time? Estlin had his reasons, and he was part of a movement that was challenging people to look at poetry, writing, and art in a new way.
This wonderfully written title gives readers a thorough and often startling picture of the life of E.E. Cummings, and it also give readers a picture of an era; of a time of great change when people of all kinds were looking for new ways to express themselves. The author makes great use of Cummings' poems to demonstrate what he trying to do with his writing, and thus she gives her readers a taste of the poet's work at different points in his life.
Well written, and very carefully researched, this book is an excellent example of how a biography for older children should be crafted and presented.