Despite Cummings' affinity for avant-garde styles, much of his work is traditional. Many of his poems are sonnets, and he occasionally made use of the blues form and acrostics. Cummings' poetry often deals with themes of love and nature, as well as the relationship of the individual to the masses and to the world. His poems are also often rife with satire.
While his poetic forms, and even themes, show a close continuity with the romantic tradition, his work universally shows a particular idiosyncrasy of syntax, or way of arranging individual words into larger phrases and sentences. Many of his most striking poems do not involve any typographical or punctuational innovations at all, but purely syntactic ones.
As well as being influenced by notable sources modernists including Stein and Pound, Cummings' early work drew upon the imagist experiments of Amy Lowell. Later his visits to Paris exposed him to Dada and surrealism, which in turn permeated his work. He also liked to incorporate nature and death imagery into much of his poetry.
While some of his poetry is free verse (with no concern for rhyme and scansion), many of his poems have a recognizable sonnet structure of 14 lines, with an intricate rhyme scheme. A number of his poems feature a typographically exuberant style, with words, parts of words, or punctuation symbols scattered across the page, often making little sense until read aloudat which point the meaning and emotion become clear. Cummings, who was also a painter, understood the importance of presentation, and used typography to "paint a picture" with some of his poems.
The seeds of Cummings' unconventional style appears well established, even in his earliest work. At age six Cummings wrote to his father:
FATHER DEAR. BE, YOUR FATHER-GOOD AND GOOD,
HE IS GOOD NOW, IT IS NOT GOOD TO SEE IT RAIN,
FATHER DEAR IS, IT, DEAR, NO FATHER DEAR,
LOVE, YOU DEAR,
Following The Enormous Room, Cummings' first published work was a...
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