From the Archive: E. E. Cummings's 1956 Postcard
PostedMay 12, 2016
In this 1956 postcard from the archive, E. E. Cummings gets back to Academy of American Poets founder Marie Bullock regarding her request that he join in on a radio programming initiative the Academy was planning in collaboration with Columbia Broadcasting System. Cummings’s reply is short, sweet, and exceedingly clear: “As it happens, I loathe radio!”
Bullock had reached out to Cummings a few days prior to this postcard, saying, “It has for some time been our hope that we might interest one of the large radio networks in a regular poetry program.” She wrote that the idea was still “up in the air,” but that they had been successful in another radio venture at the time. Bullock wrote:
“Aware of the success in England of the poetic plays of
Christopher Fry, Dylan Thomas, and of the BBC
commissioned verse dramas, as well as the fabulously
successful sale of poetry recordings in the United
States, we have been anxious to conduct a contest
for verse plays in this country, providing we could tie
in with one of the networks. We have been successful
with the Columbia Broadcasting System. In fact we
have just signed a contract with them.”
Bullock was excited about the project, saying, “It seems to me this is the first step of really interesting the radio world in poetry” and even encouraging Cummings to submit to the contest himself: “Surely you, yourself, have a one-act play tucked away somewhere, which could be dusted off, and sent in for this competition also!”
However, Cummings’s courteous yet humorously blunt reply—complete with a red-inked emphasis on the word “loathe”—provides a clear answer to the question of Cummings’s take on the matter. Cummings was known to have particular opinions about various aspects of modern life. He hated noise, and in particular disliked the catchy ads that ran on the radio—there was certainly no radio at 4 Patchin Place.
Despite his short reply, Cummings responded with no ill will or negativity toward Bullock, with whom he and his wife Marion—who he mentions with a friendly greeting—had a regular, cordial correspondence.
Though the radio held no appeal for Cummings, the poet also had no need for the extra publicity; by the time he wrote this postcard, Cummings had already published several books and received the Academy of American Poets Fellowship and two Guggenheim Fellowships. Just a few years after this postcard, he would also be awarded the Bollingen Prize in Poetry and a Ford Foundation grant, and by the time of his death, he was second only to Robert Frost as the most widely read poet in the United States.