Along with Pound, Eliot, and Joyce, Edward Estlin Cummings is one of the leading American poets who revolutionized literary expression in the twentieth century. He was also a Cubist painter, a champion of the little man, a brilliant conversationalist, a romantic idealist, a famous irrational curmudgeon, and husband to three of the most beautiful women of his time. This critical biography merges these various selves into one fascinating life story, many chapters of which could be mistaken for a great romantic novel. In following Cummings's development as a poet, it also includes a large number of previously unpublished poems and drawings.
Biographer Kennedy, in his introduction, admits to this book being a distillation of research originally planned for two volumes; much if not all literary criticism is thus dispensed-with in favor of a straightforward and readable bearding of Cummings' life. The son of a well-known Boston Unitarian minister, Estlin Cummings went to Harvard but detested Cambridge (site, ironically, of his largest triumph - the 1952 Norton "nonlectures" in poetry), preferring instead the Paris-Greenwich Village bohemian axis; and he never strayed from those environs even in later years when his views became anti-Semitic, McCarthyite, and bitterly galled. Cummings' personal life was pretty much a shambles: first wife stolen from a best friend (and their child only guiltily half-recognized until she was an adult), cuckolded on a second try, and finally finding his life's companion in the third - patient, classy, ex-model Marion. Kennedy's book turns especially sad when he discusses Cummings' tortured relationship with his daughter; he spots, rightly it seems, a double vein in Cummings' personality, romantic individualism but also the "petit garcon" with women: a shyness and irresponsibility. But how sorely this book lacks any real perspective on the work of the man! Was Cummings, our supreme poet of punctuation, a truly major figure (he seemed unsure of this himself); or was he a typographically hyperactive sentimentalist, a Rod McKuen with Cubist pretensions carried over from his avocation as a painter? In leaving out serious discussion of the poetry, Kennedy keeps us attending a life that's like a story without a middle, without a core. (Kirkus Reviews)