‘EIMI: A Journey Through Soviet Russia’
Travel Books: E.E. Cummings's book chronicling a 36-day trip in 1931 has been reissued after almost 50 years out of print. Frank Bures says it's a tough read, but worthwhile.
08.14.07 | 9:49 AM ET
In 1933, a small publisher called Covici Friede put out a strange book called “EIMI,” written by a strange writer. E.E. Cummings was known for nothing if not his “eecentric” style, punctuation and verse. He was always pushing the limits of the typewriter.
Usually, Cummings employed his creative urges in the service of poetry, which resulted in brilliant work, much of which is still read today, still fresh, and still like nothing anyone has written.
But it isn’t widely known that Cummings also steered his curlicued craft into the waters of travel writing. Perhaps prose was the only way he could deal with the rising Soviet monster which Cummings—himself a radical embodiment of creativity—instinctively abhorred.
Cummings traveled to the USSR in the summer of 1931 for 36 days. He took what must have been copious notes, and then when he returned, he wrote EIMI: A Journey Through Soviet Russia, which, after nearly 50 years out of print, has been reissued. Eimi is Greek for “I am,” an obvious reference to the value of the individual, which was being crushed under Stalin, a fact which many in the United States, especially artists and writers, did not see until decades later.
But Cummings saw it clearly, though he said he did not go to the Soviet Union with any specific agenda in mind. Early in the book, he has this conversation, which he transcribed in his idiosyncratic style with a hotel clerk:
“Have you any rooms?” I said.
“Yes” (not at all disagreeably).
“How much are they?”
“five dollars. But that includes breakfast.”
“Five… The redfox leans toward me. Why do you wish to go to Russia?
because I’ve never been there.
(He slumps,recovers). You are interested in economic and sociological problems?
Perhaps you are aware that there has been a change of government in recent years?
yes(I say without being able to suppress a smile).
And your sympathies are not with socialism?
may I be perfectly frank?
I know almost nothing about these important matters and care even less.
(His eyes appreciate my answer). For what do you care?
Which is writing?
What kind of writing?
chiefly verse;some prose.
Then you wish to go to Russia as a writer and painter? Is that it?
no;I wish to go as myself.
(An almost smile). Do you realize that to go as what you call Yourself will cost a great deal?
I’ve been told so.