I'm very fond of Cummings' words - (1989/2008)
text by Gary Bachlund after a poem by E. E. Cummings
for medium voice and piano
I'm very fond of Cummings' words
(o I'm very fond of Cummings' words
yes I'm very fond of Cummings' words)
but I'll write my own for his sake.
Gimme Edward Estlin's words to open my ears
(o gimme Edward Estlin's
words to my ears
yes gimme Edward Estlin's words to my ears)
won't use some as lyrics.
Nothing like a copyright ruining the blues
(o nothing like a copyright ruining the blues
yes nothing like a
copyright ruining the blues)
but a dictionary's got more.
wanted cash up front for Cummings' nifty words
(o Norton wanted cash up
front for Cummings' nifty words
yes Norton wanted cash up front for
Cummings' nifty words)
and I reckoned that's not worth paying.
Publishing is not about words or art
(o publishing is not about words or
yes publishing is not about words or art)
it was Cummings that
taught this lesson.
[ 3 pages, circa 1' 00" ]
Edward Estlin Cummings
Cummings' text comes from "LATE POEMS, 1930-62"
[ 1 ] and in that anthology is titled, "i'm very fond of." Utterly
charming, it begins in hymn-like fashion with the mention of a soup, then
moves to women, then to theology and thence to his all-important observation
that "Everybody's dying to be someone else." This was a consistent argument
for any artist, as Cummings encouraged "the moment you feel, you're
nobody-but-yourself." After all, he himself testified that "To be
nobody-but-yourself -- in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to
make you everybody else - means to fight the hardest battle which any human
being can fight; and never stop fighting."
[ 2 ]
In this admiring parody of Cummings, I choose to state the obvious -- that
creativity and the business of publishing are quite different human
pursuits. In asking for the right to publish Cumming's texts in my settings,
W. W. Norton, the owner of the Liveright subsidiary, had its business
position -- cash up front and control over how many of my own examples I
might cite on my own web site, which was a "deal breaker"
[ 3 ]
-- and I had only my deep and abiding interest in the poetic art
and insight of the poet himself. I would happily have agreed to a standard
set of terms, which were not forthcoming. Hence this verse as parody, using
the form of Cummings' original but in no way violating its copyright. I
thank Cummings for teaching me this fine lesson, that an estate might
control assets but rarely controls the message of the artist, which in
Cummings' life and example was one of artistic freedom and often rejection
and criticism at the hands of publishers and establishment academia alike.
He choose to "never stop fighting," and this is his advice to us as artists
which has not a darn thing to do with estate issues, fiduciary
responsibilities to copyright owners and general asset management. "Never
The five strophes of this patter song -- for the tempo is to be dictated by
the performer's fast but clearest possible pronunciation -- are each treated
differently, beginning with the off-beat canonic gambit.
The last strophe is accompanied by a succession of non-functional dominant
seven chords, as can be seen beginning at measure 34's odd spelling of C7 in
inversion, such that by measure 40's succession of dominant seven chord
inversions - E7 - C#7 - A7 - F#7, the accompaniment following dutifully the
vocal line. With the discordant rupture at measure 41, the succession
continues its own way as the vocal line comes to cadence in the tonic major.
Only at the last gesture in the piano does the accompaniment then bend to
the tonic of E major after a last gasp at C7.
The score for I'm very fond of Cummings' words is available as a free
PDF download, though any major commercial performance or recording of the
work is prohibited without prior arrangement with the composer. Click on the
graphic below for this piano-vocal score.
I'm very fond of Cummings' words
[ 1 ]
Found in ETCETERA, the Unpublished poems of E. E. Cummings, 1983,
Liveright, New York and London. p. 132.
[ 2 ]
As cited in my article,
On Art Songs.
[ 3 ] See my
"a source list and some thoughts on setting and not marketing a song
anthology of the poetry of E. E. Cummings."