Skip to content
Eecummings LDJ


All Lower Case—Guest Contributor Linda Dini Jenkins Writes About Breaking The Rules

All Lower Case — Guest Contributor Linda Dini Jenkins Writes About Breaking The Rules

Poet e.e. cummings figures large in the pages of The Adventures of The Baker’s Daughter, first in Puella Mea,” and now in this story by guest contributor Linda Dini Jenkins. She is a poet, essayist and playwright — and Barbara Worton’s life-long friend. Rochelle Udell


One year, maybe 1963, Mom and I were out running errands, and we stopped for a few minutes at a bookstore. I was about fourteen years old, already an experienced angst-ridden young poet, and was scouring the shelves for something suitably shocking to get my mother to buy for me.

Finally, I found it: 100 Selected Poems, by e.e. cummings. Originally published in 1923, this was the first Evergreen Edition, from 1959, and it bore a price tag of $1.75. I still have my copy, unglued, stained front cover and all. I flipped through its pages and was very pleased with my choice. Here was a book that, by its very publication, told me that it was all right to break the rules. Lower case letters. Lines that stretched across and up and down the page. No discernable rhyme scheme. This would do nicely.

I had a passing acquaintance with cummings already and had adopted his lower cases in some of my own poetry (as had most teen-aged girls at the time). But here, as was required in my household, was proof that this was legitimate. And that poetry itself could be lovely and nonsensical and horrifying — all at once.

I brought the book up to the cash register; my mother saw the little purple book and rolled her eyes. But then something happened. The man behind the cash register looked at the book too, and then at me. You dig cummings, eh?” he said. My heart stopped. No one had ever asked me what I dug” before. I nodded feebly, trying to look as cool and grown-up as I possibly could, no mean feat for a chubby, introverted teenager whose idea of a good time was to actually get to listen to an entire side of the latest Peter, Paul, and Mary album in peace. Let’s see how much you know,” he went on. I was doomed. Then my mother got interested, clearly enjoying this.

He opened the book and began reading, Buffalo Bill’s defunct … and when he got to the line, … and what I want to know is . . . he stopped. Cold. And then he looked at me. And my mother glared at me. And for a split second the world came to an end. And then, out of nowhere known to me, came these words from my mouth: how do you like your blue-eyed boy, Mister Death?

The clerk smiled and handed me the book. My mother was gob-smacked. I said thank you to the man and walked out the door, trying to remain calm. I had been tested by a total stranger and passed. I knew something. I had all I could do not to cry as I made my way out into the sunshine.

Years later, I still ask myself where the hell that line came from. Sure, I had heard the poem before, but I was not (and still am not) a memorizer. Somehow, that line of poetry stuck in my head. Even before I knew that I really would make my living among words. Even before I began to fill my room with books in earnest. 

Linda Dini Jenkins is a poet, essayist and playwright. She is the author of Up at the Villa: Travels with my Husband, Journey of a Returning Chris­tian: Writing into God and the upcoming memoir, Becoming Italian: Chapter and verse from an Italian American girl. She is also the author, with Barbara Worton, of If I’m Talking, Why Aren’t You Listening? She lives in Salem, MA and Sulmona (AB), Italy.