e. e. cummings and the Pulitzer


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December 10, 1958, Vol. IV, No. 7

The Lively Arts

By Gilbert Seldes

It is surely a remarkable coincidence that in every year which witnesses the publication of a book of poems by E. E. Cummings, the judges who award the Pulitzer Prize manage to find another poet to honor. You can imagine the scene for yourself. The deadline is the 31st of some month and the judges are huddled together waiting for midnight to bong. If no book by Cummings slips in, just under the last stroke of the bell, they sigh with relief–but those last few seconds must be agonizing. Suppose he does it again. They’ll really have to scramble about a bit. Can’t give it to Robert Frost every year, you know! Some years that old meanie Frost doesn’t publish a book at all and it’s tough. But bless them! they always manage.

They’ll have to manage again this year. For Cummings has published a new collection (“95 Poems”) and an excellent book about him and his work has just appeared (“The Magic Maker, E. E. Cummings,” by Charles Norman).

I suspect that this year’s Pulitzer Prize for poetry will be given to James Russell Lowell…

The Pulitzer Prize in poetry can be awarded posthumously, and it has just occurred to me that a new book by Robert W. Service–or maybe an old one–has just been issued. The Committee is off the hook.

Come to think of it, Cummings has held the most exalted single post a poet in America can hold: he has been Charles Eliot Norton Professor at Harvard. He’s had a Bollingen. He’s an academician. For all I know he may be entitled to be addressed as “Doctor.”

Isn’t there a faint possibility that the Pulitzer people need him a little more than he needs them?

[The 1959 award actually went to Stanley Kunitz, and cummings never won a Pulitzer–Tony O.]

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