Kenneth Burke: "Two Kinds of Against"

Despite superficial differences, E. E. Cummings' "No thanks" and Kenneth Fearing's "Poems" have important ingredients in common. Both poets have an exceptional gift for the satirically picturesque. Both specialize in rhetorical devices that keep their pages vivacious almost to the extent of the feverish. Both are practised at suggesting the subjective through the objective. And both seem driven by attitudes for which there is no completely adequate remedy in the realm of the practical (with Cummings, a sense of isolation--with Fearing, an obsession with death).

Cummings has more range, which is not always a virtue in his case, as much of his wider scope is devoted to cryptic naughtiness of an immature sort, a somewhat infantile delight in the sexual parts, alembicated confessions that seem unnecessarily shy and coy (material which, I suspect, Cummings would have abandoned long before now, had he not discovered a few processes of stylistic chemistry for extracting the last bit of ore). And like the chronic invalid who comes to identify his doctor with his disease, hating them interchangeably, he is dissatisfied not only with the current political and economic texture, but also with the "famous fatheads" and "folks with missians" (vindictively mis-spelled) who would attempt its radical cure. Fearing can be buoyed up with the thought of a situation wherein "millions of voices become one voice" and "millions of hands . . . move as one." But Cummings sees the process from the other side, as he strikes at those "worshipping Same," says they "got athlete's mouth jumping on & off bandwaggons," and in not very loving verse lambastes the "kumrads" for being deficient in love.

But even a lone wolf cannot feel wholly content without allies. Hence, as with belligerent capitalist states, his occasional nondescript alliance with anyone who will serve (witness his scattering of somewhat shamefacedly anti-Semitic aphorisms, usually consigned to cryptogram, but still "nonsufficiently in understood"). As we read "No thanks" carefully, the following picture emerges: For delights, there is sexual dalliance, into which the poet sometimes reads cosmic implications (though a communicative emphasis is lacking). For politics, an abrupt willingness to let the whole thing go smash. For character building, the rigors of the proud and lonely, eventually crystallizing in rapt adulation of the single star, which is big, bright, deep, near, soft, calm, alone and holy--"Who (holy alone) holy (alone holy) alone."


Title Kenneth Burke: "Two Kinds of Against" Type of Content Book Review
Criticism Author Kenneth Burke Criticism Target E. E. Cummings
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 03 Aug 2021
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Two Kinds of Against
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