The inscription reads, “(your favorite poet) / to our favorite girl / from your favorite/ Parents…Mom and Dad 1977 / Happy Sixteenth Birthday.”
My mom’s handwriting is lovely, even, flawless. She wrote these words, crafting them to look like an e.e. cummings poem.
The book is Tulips & Chimneys, published by Liverwright in a “typescript” edition. Reading the poems in the book is like reading the poems as cummings typed them.
I had a passion for e.e. cummings. I would find out quickly enough—in my freshman year of college—that English professors don’t much care for him and find him gimmicky. My passion, however, survived becoming an English professor myself.
I still “thank heaven someone was crazy enough to give me a daisy.” And I will always think of my mother when I read “nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands.”
I was moved and tantalized by the poem that begins “Humanity i love you / because you would rather black the boots of / success than enquire whose soul dangles from his / watch-chain which would be embarrassing for both.” It ends with “Humanity / i hate you.”
cummings is a conventional poet in many ways, but he wraps up his lyrical voice inside irregular punctuation, spacing, and capitalization. This poem
“in Just- / spring when the world is mudluscious the little / lame balloon man / whistles far and wee”
isn’t revolutionary in what it observes, but it invents words and creates images with punctuation and spacing that invite us to imagine Spring again.
As a teenager, I especially loved the irregular punctuation, the rebelling against rigid conformity. I also loved that I loved poetry. It made me feel different from my family and from the other kids around me. And, I truly loved poetry.
My favorite thing about this particular volume of poetry, however, is that my mom and dad gave it to me. It was full recognition and approval of my passion for cummings. It made me feel grown up and special.
I treasure it now as much for my mom’s message and handwriting and for the thoughtfulness of my parents as I do for the poems. This is not just a collection of poems, it is a typescript that gets us one step closer to the poet.
This volume of poetry was chosen especially for me.
One of my favorite lines from this volume, which I’ve underlined in pencil, is “let’s live suddenly without thinking”
I think that even at 16 I was living far too much in my head. cummings offered me a way directly into my heart.
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