Mina Loy 1882–1966
English-born American poet.
Although Loy is virtually unknown to most readers today, a number of important critics describe her as one of the most influential contributors to the modernist movement in America in the early 1900s. T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound praised her poems highly and her work is often linked with and discussed in terms of that of William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, and Wallace Stevens. Well-acquainted with European avant-garde literary and artistic circles, she introduced the ideas and techniques of such groups as the European futurists and other experimentalists to American poets and readers. She was not, however, directly aligned with any of these movements: her life and her art were marked by a dramatic insistence on independence, privacy, and individuality.
Loy's poetry is now generally recognized as the work of an acutely perceptive and intelligent mind. However, her densely compressed lines and images, bold sexual references, and lack of punctuation led some of her initial critics to reject her work and its stark unconventionality. Other early critics found in Loy's writing a cutting and satirical wit, a precise and forceful style, and a direct yet passionate objectivity. Having remarked on these qualities, they expressed the belief that Loy was creating a unique foundation upon which all future significant poetry would be constructed.
Many of Loy's poems appeared in Others, a small magazine published by Conrad Arensberg and Alfred Kreymborg between 1915 and 1919, and other "little" magazines of this period dedicated to exposing new poetic forms. Her collections of poetry have until recently numbered only two—Lunar Baedecker (1923) and Lunar Baedecker and Time Tables (1958). Much of the criticism written after Loy's rise to prominence in the 1910s and 1920s speculates on the causes of her subsequent silence and obscurity, and attempts to place her in the history of American poetry. The 1982 collection of previously unpublished and reprinted poems, The Last Lunar Baedecker, is dedicated to the critic and poet Kenneth Rexroth, who has taught and given public readings of Loy's work.
Most critics cite Loy's slow, meticulous manner of writing, her self-imposed isolation, and the creative energy she expended in other areas of the arts, such as painting and design, as primary reasons for her sparse publication and for her lack of greater fame. Whatever the explanation, Loy now occupies the unusual position of having been "one of the most pivotal voices in the American Free Verse Movement," while she "remains today virtually the only important poet of the pre-World War I avant-garde who has neither been assimilated into the mainstream literary culture nor picked up by the small press movement."
(See also Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 4.)