Yuba College Professor of English, Tim May, presented the works of one of America’s most renowned poets, E.E. Cummings, Thursday, March 31, as part of a Crossing Borders Presentation.
The presentation was given largely as a tribute to the National Poetry Month of April but also because of May’s affection for the author.
May was “hooked” on the author in his college years and even recited one of Cumming’s love ballads to a young lady he was dating at the time. He had committed it to memory but unfortunately, his attempt at romanticism failed. Apparently, the young lady had a hard time understanding the poem. This prompted a humored but frustrated May to tell his date to “forget it.”
May’s vast knowledge about the author enabled the audience to connect with the renowned poet on an intimate level. May offered not only a reading of selected Cummings’ poems, but also insight to the poet’s personal life.
May spoke of Cummings’ great devotion to his supportive parents. According to May, Cummings had a very good, extended childhood with nurturing parents who played a large part in E.E. Cummings’ success.
“He was painting and writing poetry, and I think his parents believed in him so much that he believed in himself by the time he went to Harvard and still lived with his parents,” May said. “By the time he was 22, he went to Harvard. He still lived at home in Cambridge and was still a virgin.
His commitment to remaining a virgin so long and his protestant upbringing may come as a surprise to those familiar with the poet’s erotic works.
Although Cummings’ father had been a Protestant Minister, the son’s poems were still unconventional. He wrote poems that were erotic, poems for spring, for his mother and father, but he also angered many with those that were anti-war. Cumming’s anger with the World War I stemmed from personal experiences from his own time in the military. “To me, Cummings is at his best with his love sonnets,” said May. “Oh did he get them on his erotic poems, oh yes.”
According to May, Cummings’ way of writing poetry was not only different in the words he chose, but in the way he wrote them on the page.
“He spread words all over the page, very visual, so that his poems sometimes would be shaped like a bullet, sometimes they’d be shaped like a caterpillar, sometimes like a butterfly,” May said. “He became the poster boy for everyone that hated new, modern poetry.”
May also noted that Cummings liked very dramatic poems and liked to play around with words and characters.
” This is part of what Cummings was all about, just playing with words, and people didn’t get it. They didn’t get what he was doing,” said May. ” He knew what he was doing with words, but it too a while for the critics to catch up.”
According to May, one of his most famous poems might be “In Just Spring.” A lot of his poetry was about spring, a celebration of the day.
“That’s what poetry’s all about, just having fun,” said May. “If you get to be 66, 67 and you’re writing poems like that, something’s right.”
Selected poems read by May were derived from Cummings’ collections “Tulips and Chimneys” and “One Times One,” among others.
Students can visit the Marysville Yuba College Library in the month of April to view a display honoring National Poetry Month. The work of known authors as well as those of students will be on display.