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Mina Loy

1882–1966

Mina Loy was born in London on December 27, 1882. She studied art in England and Germany and achieved some success as a painter; her paintings were included in the prestigious Salon d'Automne show in Paris, 1905. After several years in the heart of Parisian literary and arts society, Loy moved to Florence, where she spent time with the Futurists and with expatriate artists and writers, including Gertrude Stein. She began publishing poetry in magazines during this period. When World War I began, she served as a volunteer nurse in a hospital before moving to the United States in 1916.

Loy became a part of the avant-garde movement in New York City. She was recognized for her feminism and her modern verse, and her poems, especially her wartime work, often dealt with sex. However, her poetry also disturbed a few of her more conservative contemporaries. Marianne Moore found herself uneasy in Loy's company, and Amy Lowell was so incensed by the publication of Loy's "Love Songs" in Others magazine that she refused to submit any more work to the periodical. Conrad Aiken encouraged readers to "pass lightly over the . . . tentacular quiverings of Mina Loy," and John Collier cited Loy's verse as an example of "the need for objective standards." Still, Loy had many admirers, among them William Carlos Williams, Marcel Duchamp, and the members of the New York Dada group—including the poet and boxer Arthur Cravan, whom she married in 1918. 

In 1923 Loy returned to Paris, where she published Lunar, Baedecker (Contact Publishing, 1923). After this poetry collection, she turned her attention to visual arts and prose. Also an artist, Loy has been labelled a Futurist, Dadaist, Surrealist, feminist, conceptualist, modernist, and post-modernist. Experimenting with media in her artwork, she moved from oil to ink by World War I, then lighting fixtures in the late 1920s, and finally to sculptures featuring items collected from the streets and garbage cans of Manhattan. She allied herself with her visual art more than her writing, claiming at the end of her life that she "never was a poet."

Loy became reclusive in her later years, and lacked any interest in building a reputation for herself. Mina Loy died September 25, 1966, in Aspen, Colorado, leaving behind an unfinished biography of Isadora Duncan and an unpublished collection of poems she had written during the 1940s.

In 1921 Ezra Pound wrote to Marianne Moore: "Is there anyone in America except you, Bill and Mina Loy who can write anything of interest in verse?" But for decades, the avant-garde poet Loy was virtually invisible next to many of her fellow modernists. While she makes colorful appearances in the biographies of many other writers and artists, including those of Djuna Barnes, Marcel Duchamp, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Marianne Moore, and Gertrude Stein, Mina Loy had no biography of her own until 1996, when Becoming Modern: The Life of Mina Loy (by Carolyn Burke, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1996) was released along with a new edition of her poems, The Lost Lunar Baedeker.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry
The Lost Lunar Baedeker (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996)
The Last Lunar Baedeker (Jargon Society, 1982)
Lunar Baedeker & Time-Tables (J. Williams, 1958)
Lunar, Baedecker (Contact Publishing, 1923)

Prose
Insel (Black Sparrow Press, 1991)

Mina Loy

By This Poet

8

Lunar Baedeker

A silver Lucifer
serves
cocaine in cornucopia

To some somnambulists
of adolescent thighs
draped
in satirical draperies

Peris in livery
prepare
Lethe
for posthumous parvenues

Delirious Avenues
lit
with the chandelier souls
of infusoria
from Pharoah's tombstones

lead
to mercurial doomsdays
Odious oasis
in furrowed phosphorous---

the eye-white sky-light
white-light district
of lunar lusts

---Stellectric signs
"Wing shows on Starway"
"Zodiac carrousel"

Cyclones
of ecstatic dust
and ashes whirl
crusaders
from hallucinatory citadels
of shattered glass
into evacuate craters

A flock of dreams 
browse on Necropolis

From the shores
of oval oceans
in the oxidized Orient

Onyx-eyed Odalisques
and ornithologists
observe
the flight
of Eros obsolete

And "Immortality"
mildews...
in the museums of the moon

"Nocturnal cyclops"
"Crystal concubine"
-------
Pocked with personification
the fossil virgin of the skies
waxes and wanes----

Moreover, the Moon ---

Face of the skies
preside
over our wonder.

Fluorescent
truant of heaven
draw us under.

Silver, circular corpse
your decease
infects us with unendurable ease,

touching nerve-terminals
to thermal icicles

Coercive as coma, frail as bloom
innuendoes of your inverse dawn
suffuse the self;
our every corpuscle become an elf.

The Black Virginity

Baby Priests	
On green sward	
Yew-closed	
Silk beaver	
Rhythm of redemption	        
Fluttering of Breviaries	
 
Fluted black silk cloaks	
Hung square from shoulders	
Troncated juvenility	
Uniform segration	        
Union in severity	
Modulation	
Intimidation	
Pride of misapprehended preparation	
Ebony statues training for immobility	        
Anæmic jawed	
Wise saw to one another	
 
Prettily the little ones	
Gesticulate benignly upon one another in the sun buzz—	
Finger and thumb circles postulate pulpits	        
Profiles forsworn to Donatello	
Munching tall talk vestral shop	
Evangelical snobs	
Uneasy dreaming	
In hermetically-sealed dormitories	        
Not of me or you Sister Saraminta	
Of no more or less	
Than the fit of Pope's mitres	
 
It is an old religion that put us in our places	
Here am I in lilac print	        
Preposterously no less than the world flesh and devil	
Having no more idea what those are	
What I am	
Than Baby Priests of what "He" is	
or they are—	        
Messianic mites tripping measured latin ring-a-roses	
Subjugated adolescence	
Retraces loose steps to furling of Breviaries	
In broiling shadows	
The last with apostolic lurch	        
Tries for a high hung fruit	
And misses	
Any way it is inedible	
It is always thus	
In the Public Garden.	        
 
Parallel lines	
An old man	
Eyeing a white muslin girl's school	
And all this	
As pleasant as bewildering	        
Would not eventually meet	
I am for ever bewildered	
Old men are often grown greedy—	
What nonsense	
It is noon	        
And salvation's seedlings	
Are headed off for the refectory.

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