‘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.

But Cummings did go as himself, as he recounted in “EIMI,” an account that’s not strictly a travel narrative. In fact, it was originally published as a novel, though it is not clear why. There is nothing novelistic about it.

Maybe it was the way he layered his own travels with allusions to Dante’s Inferno. Maybe it was the way he used pseudonyms for everyone including himself. Or maybe in 1933—four years before Robert Byron’s Road to Oxiana redefined the genre—publishers thought that would help sales, or protect it from ideological backlash. Then again, maybe nothing E.E. Cummings did was straightforward.

Whatever the label, at its core “EIMI” is clearly a loose account of Cummings’ month in the Soviet Union, where he visited Lenin’s tomb, attended various propaganda plays and met other artists and writers, before taking the train back into the real world.

But the Soviet Union was as real as any, and Cummings knew. It is what terrified him most. At a deeper level, “EIMI” is a very political travelogue—one of my favorite kinds. I don’t mean political in the narrow sense, but in the vein that James Fenton wrote All the Wrong Places, and Ryszard Kapuscinski wrote The Soccer War, and even Emma Larkin wrote Finding George Orwell in Burma. In “EIMI,” Cummings sees the political landscape as integral to the place. Through it, he gets at bigger questions about the kind of worlds we create and that create us.

To call “EIMI” an easy read would be a lie. It’s a long, slow slog (like taking a train through the Soviet Union!) that requires tiresome mental gymnastics to understand each sentence. Much of it is impenetrable. Other parts are incomprehensible. Some parts, I have to admit, I read really, really fast.

But it’s worth a look, nonetheless, at least as a glimpse of a time and place that’s no longer with us, and a journey with one of the most unusual writers ever, and one who didn’t like the world he saw being created on his journey into the heart Stalin’s empire. It was a world that made him, in the end, cry out in a plea for what he saw being extinguished, for the very thing that made him a poet, and for that which makes us all human:

Voice

(Who:
         
Loves;

Creates,

Imagines)

OPENS



Frank Bures is a contributing editor at World Hum, where his stories have won several awards. More of his work can be found at frankbures.com.


3 Comments for ‘EIMI: A Journey Through Soviet Russia’

Countryside 08.15.07 | 12:38 PM ET

First I hear about it!

William Masek 08.22.07 | 12:55 AM ET

Excellent article. It’s very interesting to read about non-political views on the former Soviet Union.

Paula 10.24.08 | 11:28 PM ET

This is the first I’ve heard about this book, but I would love to read it!

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