E. E. Cummings:
Co-sponsored by Mass Poetry, Woodberry Poetry Room, and Grolier Poetry Bookshop
This event includes a book signing
March 28, 2014
7:00 PM ET
Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138
This event is free; no tickets are required.
Harvard Book Store, Mass Poetry, Woodberry Poetry Room, and Grolier Poetry Bookshop are pleased to welcome biographer and novelist SUSAN CHEEVER for a discussion of her latest book, E. E. Cummings: A Life.
E. E. Cummings was and remains controversial. He has been called “a master” (Malcolm Cowley); “hideous” (Edmund Wilson). James Dickey called him a “daringly original poet with more vitality and more sheer uncompromising talent than any other living American writer.”
In Susan Cheever’s rich, illuminating biography we see Cummings’s idyllic childhood years in a mythic part of Cambridge, Massachusetts (the Cummings house was within calling distance of Harvard professor William James, who first introduced Cummings’s parents); his Calvinist father—distinguished Harvard professor and sternly religious minister of the Cambridge Congregational Church; his mother—loving, attentive, a source of encouragement, the aristocrat of the family, from Unitarian writers, judges, and adventurers.
In Cheever’s book we also see that beneath Cummings’s blissful, golden childhood the strains of sadness and rage were already at play. He grew into a dark young man and set out on a lifelong course of rebellion against conventional authority and the critical establishment, devouring the poetry of Ezra Pound, whose radical verses pushed Cummings away from the politeness of the traditional nature poem toward a more adventurous, sexually conscious form.
We see that Cummings’s self-imposed exile from Cambridge—a town he’d come to hate for its intellectualism, Puritan uptightness (“the Cambridge ladies,” he wrote, “who live in furnished souls”), racism, and self-righteous xenophobia—seemed necessary for him as a man and a poet. Headstrong and cavalier, he volunteered as an ambulance driver in World War I, working alongside Hemingway, Joyce, and Ford Madox Ford . . . his ongoing stand against the imprisonment of his soul taking a literal turn when he was held in a makeshift prison for “undesirables and spies,” an experience that became the basis for his novel, The Enormous Room, of which F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote: “Of all the work by young men since 1920—one book survives.”
We follow Cummings as he permanently flees to Greenwich Village to be among other modernist poets of the day—Marianne Moore, Hart Crane, Dylan Thomas—and we see the development of both the poet and his work against the backdrop of modernism and through the influences of his contemporaries: Stein, Amy Lowell, Joyce, and Pound.
Cheever’s fascinating book gives us the evolution of an artist whose writing was at the forefront of what was new and daring and bold in an America in transition.
Walking from the Harvard Square T station: 2 minutes
As you exit the station, reverse your direction and walk east along Mass. Ave. in front of the Cambridge Savings Bank. Cross Dunster St. and proceed along Mass. Ave for three more blocks. You will pass Au Bon Pain, JP Licks, and TD Bank. Harvard Book Store is located at the corner of Mass. Ave. and Plympton St.
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Harvard Book Store is anticipating National Poetry Month in April with a series of events this March. The Road to Poetry Month series includes events with poets Kevin Young and Dan Chiasson as well as biographer Susan Cheever for her new book on the life of E. E. Cummings.
Featured event books will be for sale at the event for 20% off. Thank you for supporting this author series with your purchases.
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