e e cummings is one of the more experimental 20th Century poets. Not only is he a typographical saboteur who refused to capitalise his name (a nightmare for Microsoft Word), but his work constantly plays with idiosyncratic syntax and formal conventions, inventing new methods of conveying his thoughts and words to the reader.
One of his more minimalist, and also more beautiful, works is 'l(a)'. At a first glance the poem seems to be gibberish, a jumble of letters arranged in what appears to be a random order. If you rearrange the poem horizontally, however, it reads “l(a leaf falls)oneliness”. Now we can see that cummings has ingeniously refigured the idea of loneliness into a verbal and poetic form, disrupting the flow of the individual word with the insertion of “a leaf falls” in brackets. The solitary leaf falling is a visual symbol of solitude and the fragmentation, which its interruption causes, illustrates the separation that is a primary cause of loneliness. The form of the poem on the page also conveys a sense of loneliness as the words create the shape of “1” or “I” and also echo the image of a leaf slowly falling to the ground. The breaking up of the words, or enjambement, also reveals the word “one” and the initial bracketed “a” which again reiterate the notion of singularity. cummings’ biographer Richard S. Kennedy calls the poem “the most delicately beautiful literary construct that cummings ever created”.
[This post was originally published in Helicon Magazine on 1/11/14]