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Original Imitation

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  1. Introduction
  2. The sonnet form Cummings
  3. The Petrarchan sonnet in the poem
  4. The most popular technique used by Cummings
  5. Conclusion
  6. Works cited

In a modern era of corporate tyranny and the disappearance of an independent creative market, the artistic longing for originality is often forgotten. Radio stations sell out to public opinion, Top-40 hits recycling the last generation of Top-40 hits, and the hand-published pages of timid literary endeavors little the back shelves of Barnes & Noble like corpses on the beaches of Normandy. Because the Danielle Steele's and Dan Brown's of the writing world bare the arms, an army of the greatest living plagiarists, tapping into to public domain and regurgitating their own themes in the hope of producing exactly what their audiences desire. A simple kind of art, a simple kind of intelligence. It seems that the human desire to be the first, to be an inventor instead of a recycler, has vanished within the boundaries of popular literature. Now, attempts to attain originality are born mostly of hybrid genres, poets desiring to angst unconfined by poetical limits and fictionists seeking to write of love with all the beauty and sound quality of Shakespeare. Modern poetry is almost absurd in a sense, the product of coffee houses and lesbians reading to their guitars. From published collections to college workshops, form poetry has become a thing of history, and only laziness can describe the inability of poets to be original without completely destroying the sanctity of poetical constraint, for it is a talent, a precarious balance between uninhibited thought and control. More importantly, it is a sacrifice. Interestingly enough, one of the forerunners of this so-called new-and-improved experimental poetry was also one of the most notable of modern formalists: E. E. Cummings. Known mostly for his abstract syntax and absurd punctuation, his love for the sonnet form is rarely remembered in comparison to his unrestrained free verse, and he ?turned to [it] more often than to any other form? (Mason 313). In many ways, however, he was a master of balance between form and emotion. For being a formalist does not always mean that the thought must be altered in order to adhere to an austere code; instead, E. E. Cummings bent the rules of formalist poetry to compliment his ideas, as exemplified in his poem ?twentyseven bums give a prostitute the once? from his 1923 collection, Tulips & Chimneys (Appendix A).

[...] As such, the poem is a loosely-based Petrarchan sonnet, mostly recognizable for its initial A-B-B-A-C-D-D-C rhyme scheme (but particularly close to A-B-B-A-A-B-B-A if some rhymes are stretched), although the last six lines follow an E-F-E-G-F-G pattern in contrast to the E-F-G-E-F-G model of the original form. While normally the turn of the sonnet would appear after the eighth line, or octave, the turn in Cummings' poem appears halfway through line ten, where the mostly observational nature of the poem switches from the crude viewpoint of the bums to the more subjective, passionate opinion of the narrator: the prostitute is transformed into a lady that ?lazily struts? (Cummings). [...]

[...] Probably the most popular technique used by Cummings is punctuation. Although ?twentyseven bums give a prostitute the once? is not as consumed by punctuation as many of his works, there are still incidents where erratic punctuation further disturbs the flow of the sonnet. And disturb is probably the best word for it: Cummings does not use punctuation merely for aesthetic value, to make an impact or to look different, he uses it to mimic thought. In fact, much of his uniqueness of a poet is derived from his ability to transcribe thought directly into poetry. [...]

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