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On "Poem, or Beauty Hurts Mr Vinal"

 Lewis H. Miller, Jr (1986)

 ...Cummings was quick to take an anti-acquisitive stance by insisting in 'Poem, or Beauty Hurts Mr Vinal' that America's bad, anaemic poetry had much in common with the cloying appeals of America's advertising. Both sprang from and contributed to a sterile, mechanized world which, as Cummings saw it, feeds on predictable, stock attitudes and responses. As an indictment of a consumer-oriented society and of the verbal and visual cliches which accompanied and promoted that society, 'Poem, or Beauty Hurts Mr Vinal' provides a unique antidote to the optimism of its time and to the consumer fetishism which continues to shape our individual and collective desires and goals....

...Cummings' underlying comparison of bad poetry with the tired commercial phrases of his time is mischievously introduced by his selection of Mr Harold Vinal as a representative contemporary poet. Vinal, a New Englander like Cummings, had moved from his bucolic family compound in Maine to take up residency in New York City where he quickly became secretary of the Poetry Society of America and where he published his own poetry journal, Voices, a short-lived periodical to which Cummings applies the paradoxical, uncomplimentary modifiers, 'radically defunct' (see line 18).

Vinal broke into print with his Yale Younger Poets Series volume, White April (1922), a collection of Georgianesque nature lyrics which Cummings found contrived, sentimental, and very much out of touch with a postwar industrial era....


 ...Cummings attacks Vinal not only as an individual poet but as a symptom of his times.  The assertion that 'Beauty Hurts Mr Vinal' is not only a description of silly derivative gestures in Vinal's poetry; Cummings' title also points up a persistent cultural phenomenon: 'beauty' can be insidious as it deflects attention away from basic human attributes and needs to mere show and window dressing--whether in poetry or in advertising....

from Lewis H. Miller, Jr. "Advertising in poetry: a reading of E. E. Cummings' 'Poem, or Beauty Hurts Mr Vinal." Word & Image 2 (1986): 349 and 354.

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