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E.E. Cummings and dyslexia

Abstract

We suggest that the American poet E.E. Cummings was probably mildly dyslexic. Evidence, which is drawn in particular from inspection of his archival papers, includes consideration of his spelling, letter formation, handwriting, approach to page orientation, proclivity for exploration of the mirror-image, reading and educational history, struggles in the composition of analytical prose, and notable strengths in lateral thinking and the making of surprising lateral connections. We emphasise the importance of Cummings’ modernist literary context as the primary shaping force for his literary aesthetic and we resist any simply reductive explanation of his literary style as a function of dyslexia. However, dyslexia may be one factor that contributes to his unique style.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Our thanks to Gillian Huang-Tiller and Michael Webster for helping us to clarify this.

  2. 2.

    The ‘Selzer’ example is from a letter quoted by Norman, 1972 [1958], p. 161 and also published in Cummings, 1972, p. 98. ‘amire’ is from the Harry Ransom Center papers. The examples cited in this paragraph represent spelling from Cummings’ adult years. Also, at the Harry Ransom Center is a long piece of schoolwork (‘Cummings, E.E. (Edward Estlin) (1894-1962). Collection, 1902-1968. Call number: 10.4), written when Cummings was in his second year at the Cambridge Latin School, when he would have been about 14. This shows the same spelling tendencies and difficulties, especially with doubled letters or conventional representation of vowels: ‘immesurable’, ‘sollemn’, ‘accompanyed’, ‘alotted’, ‘straitaway’, ‘accompanyment’, ‘Appolo’, ‘matress’; also ‘march’ for ‘marsh’. We acknowledge the Harry Ransom Center Research Fellowship in the Humanities, supported by the Frederic D. Weinstein Memorial Fellowship, which made possible Dr. Rosenblitt’s work in the HRC archives, and the Joan Nordell Fellowship which made possible her work in the Houghton Library (Harvard) archives.

  3. 3.

    We thank Gillian Huang-Tiller for this point.

  4. 4.

    Houghton Library Collection (Harvard University), E.E. Cummings papers, 1870–1969 (MS Am 1823–1823.10): MS Am 1823.7 (25), Folder 7. See, in general, Kennedy, 1994 (passim) and Kennedy, 1966 on Cummings and his father.

  5. 5.

    In particular, Ezra Pound’s innovatively formatted poem, ‘The Return’ was a profound influence. See Cummings, 1972, p. 254; Norman, 1972 [1958], pp. 38–9; Kennedy, 1979, pp. 176–9; Kennedy, 1994, pp. 105–9.

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Correspondence to Linda S. Siegel.

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Rosenblitt, J.A., Siegel, L.S. E.E. Cummings and dyslexia. Ann. of Dyslexia 70, 369–378 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11881-020-00206-w

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Keywords

  • Dyslexia
  • E.E. Cummings
  • Poetry