By Julie Shapiro
BATTERY PARK CITY — A massive wooden desk that once belonged to the poet e.e. cummings arrived in Battery Park City earlier this month.
The dark, gleaming desk is now on permanent display for the first time at Poets House, a library and literary center whose founder was a close friend of cummings.
"Two weeks ago, we got an email saying, 'Would you like this desk?'" said Jane Preston, managing director of Poets House, still sounding astounded by the good fortune. "It was a total surprise. We responded and said, 'We will receive this desk with joy!'"
The desk — which measures about 4 feet long, 3 feet tall and 2 feet deep and weighs about 50 pounds — is empty, save a small white envelope dated 1953, which contains two keys to the drawers.
"That it is cummings' is thrilling," Preston said, "because e.e. cummings is a poet who is beloved by the very young and very old alike."
The desk has already become a favorite stop on school tours. Children learn about cummings, a prolific 20th century poet who treated words as pieces of art, and then they listen to a few of his playfully captivating poems, like "who knows if the moon's":
who knows if the moon's
a balloon, coming out of a keen city
in the sky--filled with pretty people?
(and if you and i should
get into it, if they
should take me and take you into their balloon,
we'd go up higher with all the pretty people
than houses and steeples and clouds:
away and away sailing into a keen
city which nobody's ever visited,where
in love and flowers pick themselves
While cummings' work is well known, the desk remains mostly a mystery. Preston does not yet know how old the desk is, what type of wood it is made of, what it might be worth, or even whether cummings definitely used it to write his poetry — perhaps he preferred cafes, or park benches.
But the staff does know that the desk was made in Boston and belonged to cummings when he lived in Cambridge, Ma., where he likely inherited it from his parents and grandparents. Cummings brought the desk with him when he moved to 4 Patchin Pl. in the Village in 1924, and he kept it until he died in 1962.
The desk then went to cummings' partner, Marion Morehouse, and following her death in 1969 it went to Morehouse's friend Maryette Charlton. Charlton kept the desk for decades, but now she is preparing to move out of her Upper West Side apartment and decided to donate it to Poets House, Preston said.
The Battery Park City poetry center already has two paintings by cummings hanging on the walls, both dedicated to Elizabeth Kray, co-founder of Poets House.
Kray met cummings in the 1950s and they became close friends, according to a biography by Richard S. Kennedy. Kray drank tea at cummings' Patchin Place apartment every Friday night, and soon she became his agent, booking readings for him all over the country.
Now, cummings' desk sits across from Kray's on the second floor of Poets House, just a few feet away from conference tables and couches where new writers are setting pen to paper every day.