Mina Loy Essay - Loy, Mina (Poetry Criticism)

Loy, Mina (Poetry Criticism)

Introduction

Mina Loy 1882–1966

(Born Mina Gertrude Lowy) English poet and artist. See also Mina Loy Literary Criticism.

Loy is closely associated with the modernist movement in American and English poetry in the early twentieth century. She is noted for her innovative experimentation with free verse and her use of such themes as sexuality and female experience. Her work is often autobiographical and reflects her association with the Italian Futurist movement, French metaphysics, and with other avant-garde writers such as Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and Marianne Moore.

Biographical Information

Loy was born into a conventional English Victorian family of Hungarian descent. She started writing poetry and painting early, and as a young woman, she travelled to Germany and Paris to study art. In 1903 she married the artist Hugh Oscar William Haweis (known as Stephen) in Paris. She had some early artistic successes at the Salon D'Automne, after which Haweis moved the family to Florence. She had three children with Haweis, who abandoned her in 1913. After becoming enamored of the Futurist movement in Italy, she began writing verse extolling the Futurist philosophy. She eventually became disillusioned with the fascist and misogynist tendencies of the movement and abandoned Europe for New York. After being published in avant-garde journals such as Others, the Dial, and Camera Work, Loy's poetry began to garner critical attention. In 1918 she married Dadaist Arthur Cravan, who disappeared and was presumably found dead in the Mexican desert in 1919. She published her first collection of poetry, Lunar Baedecker in 1923. That same year she settled in Paris with her children and worked as a lampshade designer and artist's agent to support her family. She returned to New York in 1936 and continued to write poetry sporadically. Loy died in Aspen, Colorado, in 1966.

Major Works

Loy's importance as a poet is based largely on her early work, which reflected her concerns with the role of women in a modern world. Her Love Songs (1981), "Parturition," "Three Moments in Paris," and "Italian Pictures" are unsentimental explorations of a woman's experience of childbirth, love, sex and its aftermath which reflect the modern artist's use of collage and other stylistic techniques. Loy's political philosophy is manifest in her "Aphorisms on Futurism," a prose poem that celebrated

the Futurist movement and "Feminist Manifesto," a call for economic and social reform in the lives of women.

Critical Reception

Loy's early work was favorably received by the influen tial modernist poets Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot, both of whom admired her innovative and autobiographical verse. Yet the modernist aspects of Loy's poetry alienated most commentators, in particular the unconventional structure and the overlapping characters and images in her work. Her frank treatment of sexual themes shocked mainstream audiences and prevented her poetry from being published in major journals of the period. Today she is the focus of critics who examine her work within the context of feminist and modernist poetry.

Principal Works

Poetry

* Songs to Joannes, Others 1917

Auto-Facial-Constructions 1919

Psycho-Democracy 1920

Lunar Baedecker 1923

At the Door of the House 1980

Virgins Plus Curtains 1981

The Last Lunar Baedeker 1982

*Republished as Love Songs, 1981.

Criticism

Kenneth Fields (essay date 1967)

SOURCE: "The Poetry of Mina Loy," in The Southern Review, Vol. 3, Summer, 1967, pp. 597-607.

[In the following essay, Fields provides a thematic and stylistic analysis of Loy's poetry.]

Mina Loy was a contemporary of Williams and Pound, and although she was born in England, her poems are an important part of the American free verse movement. She published her first poems in Alfred Stieglitz's Camera Work, and later appeared in Little Review, Others, The Dial, and other prominent American magazines. Like the work of most first-rate writers, her poems were controversial, but she was held in high regard by her contemporaries. In 1921, Pound writes to Marianne Moore: "Also, entre nooz: is there anyone in America except you, Bill and Mina Loy who can write anything of interest in verse?" Lunar Baedecker [sic], containing 31 poems, was published in 1923, and Jonathan Williams, in 1958, published Lunar Baedeker and Time-tables, unfortunately, on his small and little-known press. This book went out of print almost immediately, and today Mina Loy's poems are virtually unobtainable. One of the best poets of the period, she is now scarcely read, and her name appears only in the midst of semischolarly lists compiled by men more interested in history than in distinguished poets.

Everyone knows that the tens and twenties were a difficult period for writers, and the fragmentary and obscure details of Mina Loy's private life which emerge are anything but happy. Her attitude toward her experience and much of her poetic subject matter is one of detached irony of an unusual directness. "Mina Loy," recalls William Carlos Williams in his Autobiography,

was very English, very skittish, an evasive, longlimbed woman too smart to involve herself … with any of us …

And from the questionnaire in the final issue of the Little Review (May 1929) we learn that she considered her weakest characteristic to be her "compassion," and her strongest, her "capacity for isolation." These answers tell us something about her poetry. She does not mean that her compassion is deficient; but rather, that compassion, inescapable and human, causes her so much pain that isolation seems a virtue. And we find both characteristics in her poems.

I have said that her attitude is one of detached irony of unusual directness. This may appear contradictory, but it is not. Let me illustrate what I mean by quoting the final lines of "Lunar Baedecker," in which she describes the moon ("Crystal concubine") in terms of its excessive use as a poetic property. The irony permits her to achieve objective distance, but the lines are impressive for their straightforwardness:

Pocked with personification
the fossil virgin of the skies
waxes and wanes.

Such directness may be disconcerting to some, but it is the source of her power. At a time when "cerebral" was a pejorative term, Mina Loy was dealing with ideas. Pound's genius lay in other directions; his importance is his diversity: his mastery of various styles, his influence on the little magazines, and the fragments of a curious sort of scholarship. It may be that Williams, in a few poems only, surpasses Mina Loy stylistically, because of his extraordinary finish and precision, but the body of his work does not compare with her poems; his subjects are frequently trivial, and hers are not. And where Marianne Moore is clever and superficial, Mina Loy is profound; where Miss Moore is amusing, Miss Loy is bitterly satirical. The poets of this period tended toward a narrowness which was concerned with the image, "the thing itself," and with the technical aspects of free verse. This sort of brilliant specialization is always beneficial for the sophistication of poetic style, but it may prevent the writer from dealing with broader and more permanent areas of human experience. Thus Williams, because of his scepticism, his desire for communication, and his personal limitations, narrowly restricts his subject in his best poems and presents the isolated object with great clarity. While Pound, who lacks nothing in depth of subject, breaks his material into intractable fragments, resulting in an incoherence of which Pound is most aware. And in the poems of H.D., who cultivates effects of rhythm and sound to a high degree, subject gives way to a monotonous and private ecstasy.

Mina Loy's intelligence enables her to deal with matters of more general concern than those of her contemporaries, while her sharp perceptions and style always render the experience unique. Frequently with great brevity, she handles many of the sentimental stereotypes which had been too easily accepted for some time; and this refusal to accept the merely conventional involves a rigorous examination of states of mind and feeling, and gives to her poems a very personal quality. Perhaps the most famous example of this sort of thing is, from "Love Songs I,"

Pig Cupid his rosy snout
Rooting erotic garbage,

but a better example is the brief "Love Songs VI":

Let Joy go solace-winged
To flutter whom she may concern.

Miss Loy has written poems on D'Annunzio, Brancusi, Wyndham Lewis, and Joyce, and much of her subject matter involves a critique of many of the aesthetic common-places of the period and of the preceding "nineties." One of these commonplaces was the artist-as-clown, a notion which relegates art to the skillful pose and derives from an aesthetic such as Wilde's which declares that "All art is quite useless." It is art for art's sake, or art specialized to the point of excluding life. She may sympathize with the despair which is usually found behind the...

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Carolyn Burke (essay date 1980)

SOURCE: "Becoming Mina Loy," in Women's Studies, Vol. 7, Nos. 1-2, 1980, pp. 136-50.

[In the following essay, Burke analyzes several of Loy's poems from the years 1914 and 1915 in order to show the poet "examining the traditional spaces in which women live their lives, defining her own place within the 'spatiality' of poetry, and shaping the contours of a new psychic terrain."]

"images for the relief of the body and the reconstruction of the mind."

—Adrienne Rich

Mina Loy was an early explorer of that uncharted territory, the "new psychic geography" of women's poetry. Writing just before...

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Virginia M. Kouidis (essay date 1980)

SOURCE: "Rediscovering Our Sources: The Poetry of Mina Loy," in Boundary 2, Vol. VIII, No. 3, Spring, 1980, pp. 167-88.

[In the following essay, Kouidis discusses Loy's involvement with feminism, futurism, French metaphysics, and the free verse movement through a reading of several of her major works.]

Although British by birth, Mina Loy (1882-1966) has been considered an American modernist poet since her arrival in New York in 1916. One of the European expatriates from World War I, she shared the glamour and notoriety accompanying this group's pursuit of artistic and personal freedom, and her exceptional beauty, cerebral disposition, and cosmopolitan background...

(The entire section is 6278 words.)

Carolyn Burke (essay date 1985)

SOURCE: "The New Poetry and the New Woman: Mina Loy," in Coming to Light: American Women Poets in the Twentieth Century, edited by Diane Wood Middlebrook and Marilyn Yalom, The University of Michigan Press, 1985, pp. 37-57.

[In the following excerpt, Burke places Loy's poetry, in particular her "Three Moments in Paris" and Love Songs, within the American feminist movement.]

Soon after her arrival in New York for the first time (1916), Mina Loy was contacted by a newspaper reporter who wanted to interview a representative "new woman." The reporter began her article by asking, "Who is … this 'modern woman' that people are always talking about," then reflected,...

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Lisa Ress (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: "From Futurism to Feminism: The Poetry of Mina Loy," in Gender, Culture, and the Arts: Women, the Arts, and Society, edited by Ronald Dotterer and Susan Bowers, Associated University Presses, 1993, pp. 115-27.

[In the following essay, Ress determines the primary influences on Loy's poetry and discusses how she appropriated collage and other Futurist literary techniques to give her own work "violence and energy. " ]

In a 1921 letter Ezra Pound, that entrepreneur of modernism, asked Marianne Moore, "P.S. Entre nooz, is there anyone in America besides you, Bill [W. C. Williams], and Mina Loy who can write anything of interest in verse?" [The Last Lunar...

(The entire section is 3946 words.)