[Poetry Friday] The enormous smallness of May I Feel Said He

poetry friday

Myra here.

It’s my favourite day of the week: Friday!

I am glad to join the Poetry Friday party once again hosted this week by the inimitable and thoroughly inspiring Linda Baie from Teacher Dance. Make sure that you drop by Linda’s blog for more poetic goodness.

This week, I have a special treat as I feature two picturebooks that celebrate the beautiful oddity that is ee cummings.

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enormous SMALLNESS: A Story of E. E. Cummings

Written byMatthew Burgess Illustrated by: Kris Di Giacomo
Published by: Enchanted Lion Books, 2015
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

To say that I have been waiting for this book for awhile now would be an understatement. It is everything that I envisioned it would be. I know hardcore bibliophiles would say that a reader should not judge a book by its cover, but trust me when I say that the cover of this book barely scratches the surface of the beauty that is found within.

In keeping with the title that plays on size and perspective, the first few lines ask the reader to zoom in on a small street inside an enormous city (New York!) where a poet once lived. And here he is.

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The book takes the reader as far back as Edward Estlin Cummings’ childhood in Cambridge Massachusetts, where the young poet uttered his first poem at the age of three inspired by the sight of birds hopping from the branches of a tree outside his window:

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It is this window to the outside world that figures prominently throughout e.e.’s life, as he is always keenly attuned and sensitively aware of what is happening around him, as he tries to capture in fleeting flying words how he feels about the frosty air, the circus, and the zoo. Clearly, he was also nurtured by both parents who encouraged him, wrote down his utterances as if they were precious pearls (and they were!), and actively participated in his world of make-believe:

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Apart from the window that allows e.e. a glimpse into the magnificent world outside, his tree house also figured quite prominently in his life narrative as it offered him the solitude he required to draw his pictures and embrace the night skies through words:

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He went to Harvard where his spirit of innovation and leaping out of boundaries seemed to have been affirmed as he gave a rousing speech during his graduation about “The New Art” where words are breathed out onto the page to have a life of their own. Not surprisingly, his first few attempts at publishing his poetry that defied rhythm and rhyme were regarded as “too strange” or “too small” – just… odd.

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Yet, it was this enormous smallness and peculiar oddity that left its handprint in the hearts of readers everywhere in the world. Di Giacomo’s art did beautiful justice to the text that is brimming with the celebration of verse that broke out of patterns, of verse that reinvented itself, unable to fit into pre-packaged boxes that the universe has to offer.

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There is also a detailed list of references found at the end of the book which teachers might want to share with their students – it comes with a gorgeous illustration of e. e. cummings. He was such a debonair.

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As I marvel at the truth of love is a place, I am glad to have discovered another title from the Art & Poetry Series this time pairing the exquisite words of e. e. cummings with the paintings of Marc Chagall. How apt, really.

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may i feel said he

Poem by: E. E. Cummings Paintings by: Marc Chagall
Published by: Welcome Books, 1995
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

 Here are some of my favourite Chagall images from the book paired exquisitely with the lines from may i feel said he.

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This book is a keeper. Here is the poem in its surreal entirety. Enjoy!

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5 Comments on [Poetry Friday] The enormous smallness of May I Feel Said He

  1. I love Enormous Smallness! Haven’t seen the second book — must look for it since Chagall is a favorite of mine too. 🙂

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  2. Oh Myra, what a treat! I shall have to look for both books, being such a fan of e.e.

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  3. Books to cherish!! Thanks, Myra.

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  4. I have Enormous Smallness, wonderful book. My students loved it last year, Myra. I’ve not heard of the one with poems paired with Chagall’s work. How beautiful it looks. Thank you.

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  5. ee cummings is a wonderful puzzle to ponder, isn’t he?

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