e.e. cummings, the fearless

It seems impossible, sometimes, to delight in the new and exciting. Look at early critics’ and the general public’s reaction to most of modernism for instance. Scorned, scandalized, generally rejected (thank god enough liked it to keep it preserved). And the new can be exhausting in whole other ways. Most of us moved towns even countries to go to school at Boston University. Sometimes, most of the time, that’s excellent, and sometimes, especially when finals and papers rear their ugly heads, we’re homesick. It’s Spring Break now: some of us have stayed in Boston to take advantage of the studentless city; some of us are in all kinds of exotic locations enjoying the sun, the culture, what you will; and some of us answered the call and went home. Those times when we’re homesick, it can be helpful to look at the old and to comfort ourselves with that which is familiar, but we at Core always think turning to something new from the past can help guide us now, through anything.

Susan Cheever, who wrote an essay on E. E. Cummings (e. e. cummings) for Vanity Fair had a similar experience. Caught in a school she didn’t like that seemed to suck her soul out (not at all like BU but maybe like midterms), she desperately needed some inspiration, some drive. And in walks a famous poet, an old friend of her fathers.

When we stopped for burgers at a White Castle in the Bronx, heads turned at Cummings’s uncanny, hilarious imitation of the head of the Masters School English Department. In that well-lighted place, late at night, my father produced a flask and spiked the coffee. I was already drunk on a different kind of substance—inspiration. It wasn’t those in authority who were always right; it was the opposite. I saw that being right was a petty goal—being free was the thing to aim for. My father, who had always sided with the school, listened. Within a year he had consented to send me to a different kind of school, an alternative school in South Woodstock, Vermont, where I was very happy.

Now do not think we at Core are implying Boston University to be anything like the assembly line for boring, obedient girls Cheever’s school was. Quite the opposite. In fact, we at Core hope to inspire so you can’t wait to come back at the end of the week. Think of Cummings, one the most famous 20th century American poets, he frequently struggled to make his rent every month, and even more often struggled to have his unique style and purpose understood. Yet that did not make him unhappy nor keep him from inspiring others. In fact, like many of the modern artists who met with mixed reviews and frequent distaste, we of later decades have realized, as Cheever says:

Nothing was wrong with Cummings—or Duchamp or Stravinsky or Joyce, for that matter. All were trying to slow down the seemingly inexorable rush of the world, to force people to notice their own lives. In the 21st century, that rush has now reached Force Five; we are all inundated with information and given no time to wonder what it means or where it came from. Access without understanding and facts without context have become our daily diet.

If you feel like you’re doing something different or even wrong sometimes, just think what good company you’re in and remember:
Cummings despised fear, and his life was lived in defiance of all who ruled by it. If freeing himself of inhibition allowed him to write some of the most stirring lines in American poetry, it also allowed him to blot his legacy.

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