When I was writing E. E. Cummings: A Poet's Life, and my word-processing program silently "corrected" Cummings's capitalization and marked as errors his stretched and broken words, I understood that he would have hated computers, too. Cummings's ideosyncratic use of capital letters and punctuation, his tearing apart and jamming together of words can seem capricious, as though he broke rules simply for the sake of doing so, but in fact he was deliberate. Like a gardener coaxing bulbs to blossom at Christmas, he forced words to bloom unexpectedly, to communicate more than they might have if left alone.
In the style that he developed for his poetry, a capital letter could indicate the start of a new idea, so that the word rendered "mys / teriouSly" is both mysterious and sly. A capital could also signify a sound to be emphasized when the poem is read aloud:
hing had,ever happ
That final "D" is like the solid, concluding chord of a musical work. The reader has reached the poem's end, there's no mistaking it. Of course, Cummings's used the lower case intentionally, too. His lower-case personal pronoun--the "i" so familiar to his readers--stands for his private self.
For Cummings, the placement of words on a page mattered much. How much space separated words (or did not separate them) had to do with the flow of language, or how the poem sounded when read aloud:
who used to
ride a watersmooth-silver
and break onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat
he was a handsome man....
Can't you just hear the old eyewitness describing Buffalo Bill's feats of marksmanship?
Cummings also had no fear of taking words apart and inserting phrases inside them to present two actions that were occurring at the same time or were to be considered simultaneously:
pigeons fly ingand
whee(:are,SpRiN,kLiNg an in-stant with sunLight
Here are pigeons wheeling in the sky and briefly sparkling in the sunlight, all at once. And what are we to make of Cummings's treatment of sprinkling? It seems to me that this might have been a way to communicate through typography what this speckling with light looked like. Cummings was a painter as well as a poet, and poetry was a visual as well as a literary medium for him.
Recently someone asked me about Cummings's significance to poetry. I responded that although he gave readers much joy through his writing, his significance to poetry refers to how he broke new ground, or moved poetry forward. His significance therefore has to lie in his use of language, in his exploration of what might be possible on the page.