The award, to E. E. Cummings, the most radical of the experimental poets of the day, of the Dial prize for the most noteworthy contribution to English letters during the past year, may be regarded as definite recognition of the new turn which imagistic poetry has taken. With the literature of the day presenting such a multi-colored and variegated pattern, critics prone to discover new literary epochs and fresh schools of thought are under a constant source of danger. The editors of the Dial, however, by selecting this ultra-impressionist for their award, have placed their finger on a phenomenon which if not new is at least the most distinctive feature of contemporary literature.
Mr. Cummings, best known perhaps for his lack of capitals, orthodox punctuation, and spacing, has carried the standard of revolt much further than did Amy Lowell and her disciples a half-generation ago. In return he has achieved a rapidity of motion and a trick of brief description interspersed with flashes of vivid realism, which creates a more startling illusion than would have been possible within the bounds of the old forms. This technique has not been confined to poetry, for an impressionism which resembles it strikingly, constitutes the chief charm of the works of such writers as Sherwood Anderson or John Dos Passos.
Incidentally the sympathetic treatment which Mr. Cummings, despite his eccentricities, his appallingly frequent parentheses, and the occasional obscurity of his symbolism, has been accorded by his reviewers is an encouraging sign of the growing maturity of criticism. The contrast between the present ideal of interpretation and the old reviewer's method of judging according to fixed principles, shows how the function of criticism has changed since the days of the supremacy of the Quarterly and Edinburgh Review.