Tulips & Chimneys by E. E. Cummings (New York: Liveright, 1996; originally published in 1923. 208 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.

Let’s Tear It Down!

Deconstruction is easy. Whenever someone takes a stand, a myriad of critics file out of the woodwork like termites scoping a new meal. Whether it is art, philosophy, theology, political theory, or a position on parenting, the easiest response is a critique—objections to an argument’s premises in order to render the entire idea void.

And Put It Back Together

While I appreciate critical thinking and its ability to sharpen thought, I am inspired by the people who put a stake in the ground and provide concrete definition for a way of life.

The Aims of Poetry

As I have ventured into some poetry recently, I’ve become interested in the ways deconstruction relates to poetry. Classically, poetry involves two major aspects: 1. Rhythm—the number of syllables included on each line and 2. Rhyme—the ways in which words relate to each other.

Classic poetry, therefore, feels incredibly formal and expected, no matter the quality of the content.

Deconstructing Poetry

But does poetry need this structure? To find an answer to that question, I read Tulips & Chimneys by the father of post-modern poetry, E. E. Cummings.

Simply put, Cummings defenestrates every principle of classic poetic form. Consider this example:

“the
sky
was
can         dy           lu
minous
edible
spry
pinks shy
lemons
greens  coo         l choc
olate
s” (60).

With odd spacing, unconventional line breaks, a refusal to capitalize correctly, and irregular punctuation, Cummings cares little for rules. In fact, the lack of structure creates difficulty when reading, almost as if Cummings challenges the reader to understand the visual component of the text as a contributor to the art form of poetry.

A Salty Dog

Thematically, Cummings confirms his adoration of the feminine form and his salty nature. In a more conventional passage, he ponders:

“If to me there shall appear
than a rose more sweetly known,
more silently than a flower,
my lady naked in her hair—
i for those ladies nothing care
nor any lady dead and gone” (23).

This passage is but an example of Cummings’ tendency to lyrically ponder the beauty of the feminine and the virtues of sexuality.

Additionally, consider this passage:

“eyes to noone in particular she
gasped almost
loudly
i’m

So
drunG

K,dear” (71).

Once again, Cummings readily admits to his licentious lifestyle. His poetry, to a certain extent, flows from a blunt and honest place. It’s pretty clear he is no choir boy.

How Can We Replace What We Tore Down?

Despite these themes, the importance of Tulips & Chimneys lies in its formatting. Cummings deconstructs poetry in this work. He forces the reader to question the definition of poetry and the way he or she ought to interact with the words on the page. Cummings’ content holds meaning and, therefore, Tulips & Chimneys is not a futile exercise. But the book feels firmly encamped on the side of criticism. No matter the importance of deconstruction in any aspect of life, I always pine for a reconstruction. What can we put in place of what we tore down? Tulips & Chimneys offers no answer on that note.

Verdict: 2.5 out of 5

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