Loy, Mina

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LOY, Mina

Born 27 December 1882, London, England; died 25 September 1966, Aspen, Colorado

Daughter Sidmund and Julia Brian Lowy; married Stephen Haweis, 1903; Arthur Cravan (Fabian Avenarius Lloyd), 1918; children: four, two of whom died young

Mina Loy has always been considered an American modernist poet. Her modernist education began at seventeen with the study of painting in Munich, London, and Paris. She was elected to the Autumn Salon in 1906 and then left Paris for Florence. There she met the Futurists and incorporated their revolutionary theories of painting and literature into her early poetry. Her poems began appearing in the American little magazines in 1914, and she joined the New York avant-garde in 1916. Loy shared the Americans' commitment to the rejuvenation of word and image and their search for new poetic forms, derived from modern painting, to depict the movement of consciousness. At the forefront of poetic experiment, Loy earned notoriety for her structural innovations and her sexual subject matter. After 1925 she was largely forgotten, partly because she lacked the discipline to develop her early breakthroughs, and also because she gave much of her creative energy to painting.

Loy was married twice: in 1903 to Stephen Haweis, an English painter; in 1918 to Dadaist Arthur Cravan. Of her four children, one died in infancy, one in adolescence. She lived in Paris from 1923 to 1936 and in New York from 1936 to 1954; she spent the remainder of her life with her daughters in Aspen, Colorado.

In her poetry, Loy explores the self, "a covered entrance to infinity." Her main symbol is the eye; her enduring theme the necessity of persistent, self-and world-defining vision in a chaotic and indifferent universe. In poems written from 1914 to 1917, she analyzes a female self deformed by social mores that limit women to the roles of wife and mistress and make her success in the marriage market dependent on virginity and sexual ignorance. Educated on romantic love stories, the Italian matrons of "At the Door of the House" (1917) and "The Effectual Marriage" (1917) are soon disillusioned with marriage. The semiautobiographical Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose (first half, Little Review, 1923-24; second half, Contact Collection of Contemporary Writers, 1925) details the English version of the domestic drama. "Parturition" (1914) uses irregular typography to convey woman's physical pain and spiritual quest during childbirth.

Her central work is Love Songs (Poems I-IV, Others, 1915), or Songs to Joannes (Poems I-XXXIV, Others, 1917), 34 poems on the failure of romantic love, using irregular typography and a collage structure. Proto-surrealist images link sexuality and the psyche, and narrative blurs as the speaker is accosted by fragments of love that introduce her to a meaningless universe. Loy retreats from nihilism in "Human Cylinders" (1917), "The Black Virginity" (1918), and "The Dead" (1920), where, recognizing the impossibility of attaining absolute answers to the cosmic mystery, she shifts her emphasis to the act of vision.

Lunar Baedeker (1923) contains early poems (13 Love Songs from 1914 and 1915) and new poems. The theme of the unique vision of the artist, who alone shapes chaos into divine Form, dominates the newer poems. Loy's heritage here is art for art's sake as it developed through Baudelaire, Parnassianism, Laforgue, and the English 1890s. "Apology of Genius" (1922) stresses the artist's alienation from philistine society, the supremacy of art, and the importance of artistic craftsmanship. Other poems draw upon this heritage to defend abstract art. The title poem and "Crab-Angel" satirize the dishonest artist who abandons vision and treats art as a circus for self-display.

Lunar Baedeker reflects the development of Loy's imagery. Early poems alternate abstraction and image to depict the movement of consciousness between intellect and intuition. Later poems are series of vivid images, unified by the interplay of sounds (Loy's trademark) that unite abstraction and image in flashes of vision. Lunar Baedeker & Time-Tables (1958) retraces former ground and includes a few later poems. In poems written during the 1940s and 1950s, Loy elaborates a minor early subject, the clownish bum who, as in "Hot Cross Bum," sidesteps vision to pursue false Nirvanas. His companions are other denizens of the metropolis who fabricate illusions in order to escape reality.

Since 1944 Loy has been rediscovered by poets and critics who find in her, as in Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and William Carlos Williams, elements of modernist poetry that feed the present. An innovative structuring of consciousness, honesty of subject, and deployment of radiant words and images are qualities that made Loy a seminal modernist and connect her to the present.

Other Works:

Auto-Facial Constructions (1919). Psycho-Democracy (1920).


Fields, K., The Rhetoric of Artifice—Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, Walter Conrad Arensberg, Donald Evans, Mina Loy, and Yvor Winters (Ph.D. dissertation, 1967). Kouidis, V. M., Mina Loy: American Modernist Poet (1980).

Reference works:

CB (Oct. 1950). DLB (1980). Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995). Women's Studies (1980).

Other references:

Boundary 2 (Spring 1980). Circle (1944). Dial (June 1926). Little Review (Mar. 1918). Nation (May 1961). New York Evening Sun (13 Feb. 1917). Southern Review (July 1967).