Oct. 14, 2009

i like my body

by E. E. Cummings

i like my body when it is with your
body. It is so quite a new thing.
Muscles better and nerves more.
i like your body. i like what it does,
i like its hows. i like to feel the spine
of your body and its bones, and the trembling
-firm-smooth ness and which I will
again and again and again
kiss, i like kissing this and that of you,
i like, slowly stroking the, shocking fuzz
of your electric fur, and what-is-it comes
over parting flesh...And eyes big love-crumbs,

and possibly i like the thrill
of under me you quite so new

"i like my body" by e.e. cummings from Complete Poems 1904-1962. © Liveright Publishing, 1991. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

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It's the birthday of poet and essayist Katha Pollitt, (books by this author) born in New York City (1949), whose parents were political activists and encouraged her to write angry letters to newspapers when she was just a little girl. In college, Pollitt helped take over Harvard University's ROTC building to protest the Vietnam War, and her parents sent her flowers when they found out what she'd done. She went on to write a political column called "Subject to Debate" for The Nation magazine, starting in 1994, and she has published several books, including Reasonable Creatures (1994) and Subject to Debate (2001). She's also lived in New York City for 50 years and has only recently learned how to drive. An essay about that experience is in her book Learning to Drive: And Other Life Stories (2007). Her most recent collection of poems, The Mind-Body Problem, came out earlier this year.

It's the birthday of short-story writer Katherine Mansfield, (books by this author) born Katherine Mansfield Beauchamp in Wellington, New Zealand (1888). An extremely rebellious young woman, she had affairs with men and women, lived with indigenous people, and published scandalous stories under a variety of pseudonyms. In a letter to a publisher she wrote, "[I have] a rapacious appetite for everything and principles as light as my purse." Mansfield's family gave her an allowance so she could leave New Zealand and move to London, and she lived so freely in the bohemian scene that her mother came to visit and threatened to throw her into a convent.

Then, in the summer of 1915, her younger brother came to visit. She hadn't seen him in years, they had long talks about growing up in New Zealand, and Mansfield found herself remembering things she hadn't thought about in years. It inspired her to write a series short stories about her childhood, including "The Garden Party," which made her famous. She died of tuberculosis a few years later in 1923, at the age of 34.

It's the birthday of E.E. Cummings, (books by this author) born Edward Estlin Cummings in Cambridge, Massachusetts (1894), who wrote nearly 3,000 poems, a couple of autobiographical novels, and several essays and plays.

He majored in classics at Harvard, gave a controversial graduation speech on modern art, worked for a mail-order bookseller, got bored, and volunteered along with his college writer friend John Dos Passos for an ambulance corps serving in France during World War I. It was 1917, and partly to entertain themselves and gauge the censors' reaction, he and co-worker William Slater Brown wrote provocative letters espousing anti-war views and professing not to hate those enemy Germans. The French censors intercepted the letters, and Cummings and Brown were imprisoned at a military detention camp on suspicion of espionage for more than three months. His experiences as a prisoner in France formed the basis for his novel The Enormous Room (1922).

The 1920s proved to be a productive period for Cummings. He published the poetry collections Tulips and Chimneys in 1923 and XLI Poems in 1925. In 1926, he got a job as a traveling correspondent for Vanity Fair magazine. In the afternoons, he painted — he was an accomplished artist who for 30 years displayed his paintings and drawings in New York City shows — and in the evenings he wrote. It was a schedule that he would keep up for the rest of his life. But that same year, his beloved parents got in a horrific car accident. His father died and his mother was badly injured. Later Cummings described it: "A locomotive cut the car in half, killing my father instantly. When two brakemen jumped from the halted train, they saw a woman standing — dazed but erect — beside a mangled machine; with blood spouting (as the older said to me) out of her head." He wrote:
my father moved through dooms of love
through sames of am through haves of give,
singing each morning out of each night
my father moved through depths of height

. . . .

In his verse, Cummings tended to substitute verbs for nouns, he used patently eccentric punctuation, and he disregarded norms of capitalization. But despite unconventional style, he wrote about traditional themes, stuff like love and nature.

E.E. Cummings wrote, "Since feeling is first / who pays any attention / to the syntax of things / will never wholly kiss you."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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