By Peter Carlton | June 3, 1997
In 1960, as an award for a writing contest for high school students, I had the opportunity to interview a delightful poet who went by the name of Edward Estlin (E.E.) Cummings. 37 years later, I am finally posting this treasured interview on the brand new internet for the world to see! When I first read his poem: “Humanity, i love you”, I was dumbfounded. Me and a couple of my peers had many questions that needed answering. We wanted to find out about the controversy in the poem, the little clues in the that showed off subtle yet important underlying meaning and we really wanted to find out his personal view and opinion of the poem itself based on the contexts of creation. I compiled some thought provoking questions and got ready to interview a literary genius.
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The poem can be read at: http://bit.ly/1k4I6pt
PC: “Why did you mention that you love humanity? Every time you mentioned your love for humanity, you seemed to contradict that statement by following it with something very dreary, why is that?”
EC: “I feel that too many people judge books by their covers. They do not want to find out the true meaning of what they just read simply because people are shallow and they would rather take the easy route. This can ultimately be related to our overly simplistic society. I for one, do not love humanity, I feel that humanity itself is cruel and unjust. There is no in-between class, only the less-fortunate and the over-fortunate and this creates an unfair gap, and I stress this point in the first stanza. I felt that if I were to trick and exploit my audience by using satire and sarcasm, into thinking that they were going to read a happy poem, my message would have been better understood. In the title, I created a euphoric setting to encompass the reader’s attention before even reading the text. I wanted to make people feel good about themselves and humanity before unveiling the different shades of truth.”
PC: “Is this text by any way a reflection of your own life? What inspired you to write this poem?”
EC: “This piece is me! Many of my life’s experiences are described in the poem. Blacking the boots of success comes from a bad memory when I was imprisoned in France after the First World War, in 1917. That changed my view on humanity itself and it inspired me to write about humanity’s flaws. Through poetry, I was able to express my distress through the use of different language, diction, tone and structure, which is also a reflection of my work.”
PC: “That brings me to my next question: why write the poem in the free-verse style of poetry? Some lines do not seem coherent. Care to explain your choice of language and literary structure?”
EC: “As for structure, I wanted to create a challenge for whoever is willing to read my writing. When I write I try to be as original as possible, in order to distinguish myself from all the other writers who make their fortunes off of simple rhymes. When I wrote Humanity i love you, I wanted to challenge my audience, by forcing them to look at the meaning beyond of what was written. I wanted to provoke out-of-the-box thinking, and hopefully I was able to. I wanted my audience to question what I was writing, and to try and relate that to themselves.”
PC: “Why are you using “I” in the lower case?”
EC: “Humanity has a lower case “I”. Why should I be able to be a capital “I”? I’m just a cynical old poet, no one cares for what I have to say in society, they just enjoy my work. It isn’t important to me to differentiate us from lower case “I” to capital “I”, I don’t think that our humanity deserves the capital “I” yet.”
PC: “Why are you becoming more negative by the end of the poem? Could you explain the meaning behind these last few lines?”
EC: “As I was expressing my disappointment with humanity it was becoming so intense that I couldn’t lie to myself anymore, that I love humanity despite all of its flaws. The turning point was when I realized we as a humanity hold the secret to living a full life, but we would rather shove it away and forget about it instead of using it. For me, this was a sign of a dead society, and I couldn’t convince myself to love it anymore, I had to call it the way I really felt throughout the poem. That is where “Humanity i hate you” comes from. With this last sentence, even the most ignorant, selfish and inconsiderate reader, will understand the true meaning of the text in case they didn’t already understand it through the usage of language and tone in the poem.”
A note from the interviewer:
I was really blessed to be able to get the last interview from the famous E.E. Cummings just a few years before his death (1967). This interview inspired me to become a journalist and to contribute for a better perception of humanity/society. If I had an opportunity to interview E.E. in the present day, I would have asked him if he would have still written the poem the same way.
June 3, 1997 PETER CARLTON