Exercising with E. E. Cummings

Since retiring in 2003, I have been fighting getting old.  Although I was once an English teacher, I was determined to reinvent myself at age fifty-four.  I took drawing, pottery, and watercolor classes at Callanwolde Fine Arts Center in DeKalb County.  I joined the East Lake YMCA for tai chi and yoga classes. _DSC0003

My “exercises,” both physical and mental, have grown as I play my Lumosity games each day.  Yesterday I hit a new record of nine straight days of taking 10,000 steps.  Each morning I set goals for myself and watch my Fitbit pedometer flash as I meet each fifth of my goal.  I read other people’s blogs: Betsy Burts’s cooking blog, Bits and Breadcrumbs,  and Lisa Caldwell’s artist blog, Lisa Caldwell Fine Art, keep me entertained and thinking.

When I go on vacation, however, I do a different kind of exercise.  I’ve kept a travel journal for years, and one of my traveling companions is a hefty volume of the complete poems of E. E. Cummings.  I love the deceptive simplicity of some of Robert Frost’s poems and the startling quality of some of Theodore Roethke’s work, and I usually carry slim volumes of theirs on trips for variety, but Cummings is my favorite poet.

Somewhat like Alice, I fell into the Wonderland World of Cummings in my senior year at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania.  My professor had given us the overnight assignment to explain what Cummings was doing when he wrote “anyone lived in a pretty how town” the way he did.  I struggled to make meaning of lines such as “with up so floating many bells down” and

Women and men(both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain

I was not alone in Wonderland, however.  When each person in the class contributed a “well maybe,” I became hooked at the poet’s thought-provoking use of punctuation, capitalization, and word choice.  I began to appreciate his bending the “rules” of poetry to make the reader look more closely at his meaning.

Cummings’s poetry often forms an image.  Consider




When the words in parentheses are read separately from the letters, you can imagine a solitary bee inside rose petals (the parentheses themselves form the petals).  The letters outside the parentheses become “unmoving are you asleep.”  Put together, the two parts of the poem become a beautiful and visual metaphor.

Early in the vacation morning, I arise before anyone else and get out my travel journal.  Then I flip through my Complete Poems 1904-1962 to find a poem short enough to copy, read, and write about in the hour I may have to myself.

7 December 2000 Skidaway Island, Georgia  “i thank You God for most this         amazing/day” My notes: sonnet, alliteration of w and l sounds–pleasant. . . 

11 March 2007 Cape San Blas, Florida  “who knows if the moon’s/a balloon”
My notes: 4 stanzas of 4 lines each; four seasons, cycle of life begins with spring. . . .

In 1971 a friend was taking the same class I had taken a year earlier and sent me the new poem our professor had given the class.  He told me how beautiful the poem was.  A week later he wrote to tell me I should read the poem again.  He and his classmates, after a more careful reading, had found the poem to be chilling.  In his film “Hannah and Her Sisters,” Woody Allen has Hannah’s husband give this poem to Lee, one of Hannah’s sisters with whom he is in love.

somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

The last line of the poem appears after the title page in Tennessee Williams’s play The Glass Menagerie:  “nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands.”  I have a copy in my 2000 travel journal in which I circled the words “enclose me, unclose me, close me.”  The poem expresses the control someone has over a lover.


This piece and the one above are from Janet’s original series entitled Winter Watercolors. Click on image to enlarge.

My travel journals are written informally.  I do not require great thinking of myself.  However, I do enjoy looking for poems (I read many before choosing one for the journal), and then I enjoy copying one.  Finally, I enjoy the act of counting lines and syllables, looking for synonyms and metaphors, and giving meaning to the alliteration I may find.  One of my favorite of Cummings’s poems to use with students is one I would put on the board for a class opener.  I would leave the last line out.  Can you figure out what it is?

a)s w(e loo)k
S                        a
rIvInG                                           .gRrEaPsPhOs)

,_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _;

I realize I am not getting younger, but I feel pretty good.

Any suggestions you have for things that you enjoy doing are welcome!


10 thoughts on “Exercising with E. E. Cummings

    • His poetry can be delightful! I can almost always find one of his poems to make me laugh.
      Thank you for the comment.

  1. I enjoy reading your thoughtful and fun post,too! Thank you for mentioning my Blog. & I have no idea what I am doing, but here goes…
    – mrostniaBr –
    (I n)eed (mo)re
    <– sgniht
    ot(Teas) m i bar y n. lol-that was fun, even if I am the only one that can read it!

    • Thank you! Another thing to share with you! Oh, joy. I don’t always understand his poems, but I always enjoy them!

  2. I am now feeling the need to read Cummings as well as a need to go back to Cape San Blas…our favorite beach! Love your paintings and your writing, Janet! And thank you so much for the shout out…your link works perfectly. 🙂

  3. When you find some favorite poem by Cummings, share the “title” with me—please! And thanks for your comments.

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