Whether you admire the work of e.e. cummings or think of him mainly as the inspiration for your high school’s worst poet, you’ll enjoy this excerpt of Susan Cheever’s new biography, which touches on the poet’s later years and his relationship with Cheever’s father. The two (contrasting) money quotes here are Malcolm Cowley’s claim that cummings was “the most brilliant monologuist I have known” and this exasperated question posed by Helen Vendler: “What is wrong with a man who writes this?
“To say that late Victorian poetry is bleak would be akin to remarking that Wilkie Collins had a decent knack for plotting a novel. These poems are freighted with Gothic overtones, and it is not uncommon for some supernatural phenomenon to intrude upon what had started out as a seemingly harmless quatrain. We often encounter Death himself—or the Devil—who is something of a literary celebrity for the decadent poets. But what marks the best of these poems is that the outré is in service to something that we can think of as more desperate, and, wouldn’t you know, human.” Over at The Boston Review, an online-only essay looking at the peculiarities of Victorian decadent poetry.
“The contradictions of [Madeleine] L’Engle’s life offer the best insights into the complicated acrobatics we perform in the modern world in order to satisfy the competing claims of love, family, success, and ambition….While the person that emerges could be tiresome, didactic, and just plain weird—why is everyone always breaking into a hymn at her house?—she could also be tender and offered real insights into the difficulties of growing up.” There’s a new biography of the A Wrinkle In Time author out, and The New Republic examines her life’s many complexities and, well, wrinkles.