US poet, writer, and painter.
Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he graduated from Harvard and received an MA in 1916. While serving with a volunteer ambulance corps in France before the USA entered World War I, Cummings was erroneously charged with carrying on treasonable correspondence and imprisoned by the French. This experience inspired The Enormous Room (1922), a work in poetic prose that introduces the theme of much of his subsequent work – commitment to all that is free, idiosyncratic, and individual and hatred of the bureaucratic, platitudinous, prudish, and overintellectualized. After the war Cummings lived in Paris for a time but eventually returned to America to spend the rest of his life, apart from one journey to the Soviet Union, in or near New York. The diary of his Russian trip, Eimi (1933; the title is Greek for ‘I am’), is critical of Soviet suppression of the individual in favour of mass regimentation.
By 1926 Cummings had written four volumes of mostly short lyric verse and had found what was to be his characteristic style in subsequent works. This had a fiercely ‘modernistic’ look: inventive typographical layout, odd end-of-line breaks and punctuation, grammatical innovations, and such quirks as the well-known aversion to capital letters. Such devices, however, were employed, albeit skilfully, to support a much more conventional poetry consisting mainly of rather sentimental love lyrics and short satirical pieces. A number of cleverly bawdy poems, intended to shock the puritans of his day, have perhaps retained more of their charm than many of his love poems and satires.
Collected Poems (1938) was followed by 50 Poems (1940), 1 × 1 (1944), Poems: 1923–1954 (1954), 95 Poems (1956), and the posthumous 73 Poems (1963). i, ‘six nonlectures’ (1953), are lectures on criticism given at Harvard. Some of Cummings's art appeared in CIOPW (1931; the title refers to charcoal, ink, oil, pencil, and watercolour).