Two Poems from Weston Cann

Two poems from cummings, and some links, and a narrative about the value of poetry.


The first poetry I ever really, truly fell in love with was e. e. cummings. I had read poetry before, and thought perhaps I had written some, but I think any conception that I had of it then was really more a dim grasp of its existence. I could name (if not spell) terms for poetic devices -- consonance, assonance, omonatopoeia, metonymy, metaphor, simile, etc. I had memorized Henley's Invictus (quite cleverly, I thought, to the tune "'Give', Said the Little Stream", which I had learned in Sunday School as a child); and could recite some Robert Frost as well. I had plowed through Whitman's "Leaves of Grass" in its entirety, after watching "Dead Poets Society". But I didn't feel any of it, not really. I knew about it, like I knew the people in my AP Language and Literature class that I'd gone to school with since Junior High -- since grade school in some cases -- with whom I had never had a conversation longer than 5 minutes. Most of all, I knew that people thought poetry was important, and vaguely sensed that if I knew a lot of poems and a lot about poems that perhaps some people would think I was important too, in a sort of literary way. I don't think I had discovered any set of words I would have loved only for itself, no matter whether anyone else in the world had been concerned with poetry or had even conceived of the term.

One day Ms. Morris (teacher of said English class), handed us a copy of a John Donne sonnet which we were to analyze. On the back of the handout was a poem she never called our attention to:

I immediately fell in love. John Donne and Robert Frost seemed shallow and clumsy; Invictus and what little I could remember of Leaves of Grass seemed like mere screeds. I had seen cummings before -- the "grasshopper" poem and "Hist-wist" and other things where he had played with graphological convention and sounds -- and in those I saw that he was clever and original and most of all that he had notoriety for challenging those norms. But this time I felt like that ordinary words had been used as vivid watercolors and cummings had blended them to paint meaning outside of syntax. I didn't understand what he had done but I could _feel_ it. I learned to see this in other poetry over time (and therefore, I think, started to understand what poetry was), but at that moment, the crush was fresh and deep, and I was in love with HIS words and his words only. I had (as someone had once said about working with Julie Andrews) been hit over the head with valentine.

I checked out his anthology at the local library. I pored through page by page, and discovered that as much as I loved that poem and a few others, he also wrote a lot of them I didn't like at all (which was a valuable lesson in itself). I learned there were some I didn't feel strongly about, but felt like an interesting exercise, good fibre for the book -- literary lettuce, perhaps. I learned new depths of double entendre; cummings sometimes described dirty jokes (and sublime moments of love) subtly enough that even a teenage hormone-addled mind could miss them until somewhere between mid-poem and sometime the next day.

And one day, I came upon this:

It was spring, and a good spring at that, and I had a new dear friend I was beginning to love. The poem touched each aspect of that, and even appealed to a sense of morality and ethics and mythology I was beginning to codify -- that perhaps more than was lost COULD be found, and that having could be giving and giving was living. This poem nearly memorized itself into my mind, except for the tendency I had to mix up lines from the different verses (What's first? breathing! and that leads to... wishing! Right, and if you're happy like you are in spring, that leads to.... having! Yes! And if you have and are happy, you may as well.... give! giving! Whew!).

It also connected with a vision I'd had while reading a Piers Anthony book in 8th grade. I don't have a strong grasp of the details of the book -- I lost my stomach for most Anthony sometime around age 18 and have not revisited them -- but there was a man, and a woman, and they had musical magic that could make a landscape sing like a pipe organ and orchestra. Mostly it sang "Danny Boy". I didn't know "Danny Boy", but I had a vague musical idea of what a joyous, singing landscape might sound like form in my head. One April, at age twenty-one, living in Los Angeles (of all places for spring) as an LDS missionary and tinkering with a piano in my spare time, that musical vision met with cummings words and began to take on a life outside my head. At first, since I was a choral music geek, it took life as sheet music for a choir and piano (and eventually, of course, an organ and orchestra). Eventually, as I learned to play the guitar and appreciate folk music, it took on a John Denver-esque quality. But my friends like it; it gets sung around campfires and local bookstores and coffeeshops that let songwriters do such things. And most of all, I like it. Like my satisfaction with cummings words is my own love, borne of his skill in expressing meanings I didn't know words could combine to form, my satisfaction with the song is my own love, borne from the feeling that perhaps I'm singing duet, and the harmony between his voice and mine is good.

In other words, "When faces called flowers" is my favorite poem.

My apology for the gushing first-love narrative along with the poem selection. I think I've been meaning to write it anyway and tonight seemed as good a time as any.



somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond...
Saturday, June 29, 2002
when faces called flowers float out of the ground...
Saturday, June 29, 2002
Links to Other Poems
Links to other poems.
Saturday, June 29, 2002




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