E. E. Cummings (or e e cummings) was an American poet perhaps best know for his creative use of form and language. He created new words and bent the definitions of words and the rules of grammar to suit his poetic needs. While often writing about poetically archaic themes, like childhood, love, and flowers (including this poem below), he did things to the form of these “plain” poems that changed what modern poetry could be.
While speaking about his work, Cummings once said: “So far as I am concerned, poetry and every other art was, is, and forever will be strictly and distinctly a question of individuality.” He opposed ideas and politics that restricted or opposed individuality, perhaps brought on (in part) by his experiences during the war and his trip to the Soviet Union—but that’s another story. Instead, we have here a poem that expresses Cummings as an individual, with his own unique inclinations:
Emily Dickinson lived a solitary life in the mid-1800s, communicating through letters and spending her time writing poetry. Her poems experimented with a style that was beyond her time and she was hardly recognized for it. In reading her work, there is a simplicity to her many (often short poems) that is easy to embrace at first but difficult to really evaluate and get a hold everything that’s there. They are poems that demand re-reading.
Emily penned around 1,800 poems in her lifetime. There were poems about liquor, there were poems about ecstasy, and of course, there were many, many poems about death. I think this poem falls somewhere in-between, weighing a balance between the ecstasy and joy of life with the inevitable sadness that levels it all out—but of course, there is probably more to it than that.
Allen Ginsberg was an influential American poet of the Beat Generation in the 1950s. His poems were often political, expressing his strongly held beliefs against war, materialism, and sexual repression (to name a few). The writing of Ginsberg expressed a revolutionary moment in American poetry. He was angry with America, his home that had disappointed him, and was arrested on numerous occasions for protesting. In this excerpt below from the poem “America,” we see where it all started to go downhill.
When Ginsberg died in 1997, his good friend William Burroughs remembered him as “a great person with worldwide influence.” To get a larger picture of him as a poet and a person, I recommend listening to a recording of one of his readings, like this one here for “America.” You could even put it on in the background to go along with the visuals below.
Wallace Stevens was an American poet with a strong sense of imagination. He believed that reality was an activity, not a static object. Perhaps that’s why he tried to preserve things in jars? He also sold insurance…so there’s that. But really, he was a brilliant poet who lived an interesting life, until he passed on in 1955. There’s a good short article about his life here, drawing attention to the time he insulted Robert Frost and the time he picked a fight with Earnest Hemingway, as highlights.
Hafez was a 14th century Iranian poet who specialized in lyric poetry. He often wrote about devotion, faith, and exposing hypocrisy. I suppose this poem falls under the latter.
Song lyrics are not the same as poetry, it’s true. They are different art forms. But occasionally you stumble across some lyrics that are particularity poetic. They strike a visual scene update hearing them and you revel in the cacophony of the words themselves, separate from the music. In fact, I think that when Justin Vernon wrote the lyrics to the single “33 “GOD”” for Bon Iver’s new album 22, A Million, he was feeling particularly literary; drawing references to a classic novel that is in itself, rife with poetry. Here’s just a taste of those lyrics.
This Sylvia Plath poem was published in her collection Colossus and Other Poems in 1960, three years before her death. It imbues elements of fantasy (not uncommon in her work) to bring to life a mythic, rugged, and manly figure, wherein there perhaps lies a feminist commentary. Though Sylvia may not have seen herself as the faun, one can only imagine, and dream…