Poet E.E. Cummings (aka ee cummings) realized something many artists – sometimes even very successful ones – never do: that in order to build something truly original, you not only have to recognize all the tools at your disposal, but also understand how and why they work. He was an absolute master of grammatical form and usage, knowing all the rules of the English language inside and out. In fact, two of his most famous lectures are about the importance of knowing those rules.
And then, in his work, he broke all of them. Beautifully.
Sometimes, in the breaking, what he writes at first appears completely nonsensical. It never is, which is why his work always deserves more than one read-through or listen. The extraordinary thing about cummings is that he knew exactly what he was doing. And nowhere is this more evident than in my favorite poem of his, “anyone lived in a pretty how town.” It’s a brilliant, provocative, and meaningful work that, like all the best art, is open to a degree of interpretation, yet is also carefully, meticulously constructed.
The subject matter is both heartbreaking and beautiful. No amount of brilliance or cleverness can compensate for a lack of depth and emotional resonance. But “anyone lived in a pretty how town,” however you interpret its meaning, has plenty of both. It gets me every single time.
Anyway, here’s my reading of it:
On another note, this pandemic is hitting closer to home now. As I write this, a loved one is in the ICU with it, and two friends are also sick – one hospitalized for observation, one quarantined at home with a milder case but still showing symptoms after nine days. So until the next time, please stay safe and stay well. And may your loved ones do the same.