No Thanks by E. E. Cummings (New York: Liveright, 1998; originally published in 1935. 288 pp)
Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, E. E. Cummings was a poet, painter, essayist, author, and playwright. He was among the most influential, widely read, and revered modernist poets. His many awards included an Academy of American Poets Fellowship, two Guggenheim Fellowships, and the Bollingen Prize.
The intersection between creativity and philosophy functions as the most efficient fuel for art. Our view of the world and the way we express our beliefs about it translate remarkably well into deep and beautiful art.
Alternatively, art also works well as criticism. Those positions—philosophical, political, theological—can become rather absurd when taken to logical conclusions. Think Orwell’s work in Animal Farm or 1984.
E. E. Cummings’ poetry offers a unique window to his weltanschauung. No Thanks, in particular, exhibits Cummings at his most abstract. The title is a proverbial middle finger to the 14 publishers that passed on the manuscript; the poetry can be almost unreadable.
In fact, many of the poems only present meaning when the reader takes a step back and attempts to view the poem as a whole instead of reading it word for word.
Consider this poem on baseball:
gress verily thou art m
digious etc i kn
w & if you d
n’t why g
to yonder s
called newsreel s
called theatre & with your
wn eyes beh
(The president The
president of the president
of the The)president of
the (united The president of the
united states The president of the united
states of The President Of The)United States
Of America unde negant redire quemquam supp
The words flow into and out of each other, exhibiting multiple meanings depending on how closely one tries to read the text. In this way, it’s almost easier to “read” No Thanks in the same way you would “read” a painting—by stepping back and taking it all in over the course of a few minutes.
Thematically, No Thanks illustrates Cummings’ philosophy of romantic individualism. His poetry is decidedly instinctive, where perception works in concert with feeling. This belief functions as a reaction against intellect and reason. Cummings would much rather orbit around an esoteric concept of love than a grounded and rigid system of the mind.
“love is a place
& through this place of
(with brightness of peace)
yes is a world
& in this world of
all worlds” (70).
No Thanks is an abstract and almost “unreadable” read. But, in its complicated lyrics, Cummings reacts against the dominant structures of the world and proposes a view based on instinct and emotion. As with many great works of art, Cummings’ connection to his belief system provides fertile ground for art. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I recommend No Thanks.
Verdict: 3.5 out of 5