How to Plot a Grasshopper
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
The visual poetry of E. E. Cummings (1894-1962) bent traditional verse forms to achieve visual effects while splicing words into fragmentary syllables and letters to create semantic transformations. While his most radical visual poem, "r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r" (CP 396), has some affinities with the calligrams of Guillaume Apollinaire, Cummings' semantic transformations occur on the micro-level of the individual word, letter, and even punctuation mark rather than at the macro-level of the intersection of visual figure and lines of text. Cummings also organizes his visual poems first in lines and stanzas, even if those lines and stanzas consist only of one or two letters or a single punctuation mark. The poem called "r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r" is plotted on a grid provided by the evenly-spaced letters of the typewriter, creating a field in which letters, grasshopper, poet, and reader move together. This talk will plot those movements while discussing the artifice and spontaneity of Cummings' visual poetry.
American Literature Association 23rd Annual Conference
San Francisco, CA
Webster, Michael, "How to Plot a Grasshopper" (2011). Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants. 244.