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Reviewed by:
  • Mina Loy: Woman and Poet
  • Joshua Weiner
Mina Loy: Woman and Poet. Edited by Maeera Shreiber and Keith Tuma. Orono, Maine: National Poetry Foundation, 1998. Pp. 639. $24.95 (paper).

When Virginia Kouidis published her monograph, Mina Loy: American Modernist Poet (1980), it stood as the only extensive study devoted to this beguiling poet’s neglected career. Two years later Jargon Press published Roger Conover’s collection, The Last Lunar Baedeker, which included, in addition to Loy’s poems, selections from her autobiographical and critical prose, interviews, photographs of her artwork, and a valuable biographical essay by the editor. These two volumes from the early 1980s returned Loy to poets and scholars at a time when they were well under way revising a predominantly male and Anglo slant to the literary history of modernism and theorizing a feminist aesthetics; and this revision eventually led to a simmering of critical activity on Loy that included such dissimilar sensibilities as Thom Gunn and Susan Stanford Friedman.

Following upon Carolyn Burke’s breakthrough biography of Loy, Becoming Modern (1996), this recent collection of essays, Mina Loy: Woman and Poet, firmly indicates that the simmer has reached full boil. Many members of the loose association that “loyalist” Marisa Januzzi dubs the “Loy Polloi” are represented here, and the collection is of import first and foremost for laying down the various lines of inquiry scholars are currently following in their pursuit of a once marginal figure viewed increasingly as a central player in the drama of modernism.

Thus we get Rachel Blau DuPlessis linking the representation of female sexuality to the rise of the New Woman and the disruptive narrative structure in Loy’s sequence “Songs to Joannes”; Marjorie Perloff’s contrarian view of Loy’s “Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose” as a critique of, rather than complement to, Marinetti’s parole-in-libertà, uniquely combining mannerisms from the Yellow ‘90s and a rupturing (and contemporary-sounding) polyglossia; Elisabeth Frost’s consideration of how Loy’s “mongrelized” poetics play into, and off of, the eugenics of both the political Right and Left; Susan Gilmore’s decoding of Loy’s anagrammatic poetics of imposture; Tyrus Miller’s reading of the autobiographical novel Insel in relation to the genre of the Künstlerroman; Susan Dunn’s reminder that we need to keep in view Loy’s labor in the world of popular fashion as “an activity that was not supplementary to, but rather integrated with, her participation in avant-garde movements” (444); and Richard Cook’s wary assessment of Loy’s foray into Christian Science. There are other worthy items here as well, including Januzzi’s passionate and witty essay on Loy’s diction (in which she is surely right to emphasize that “Loy could not have had the conservative motives—the ‘learned’ purposes—of Symons or Pater at heart from the beginning” [418]); a previously unpublished 1965 interview with Loy conducted by Paul Blackburn and Robert Vas Dias; and an earlier version of Conover’s introductory essay to The Lost Lunar Baedeker (1996) that dramatizes Loy’s impact on her moment by capturing in vigorous, pungent prose the variety and intensity of reponse [End Page 155] to Loy’s work (from Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams, T. S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound, to Amy Lowell, Harriet Monroe, Conrad Aiken, and John Collier).

Certainly the most valuable contribution is Januzzi’s heroic and painstakingly annotated bibliography. It will save new Loy scholars months of legwork and send those seasoned in the archives back to the stacks in dismay—How did I miss the 1996 reprinting of “Collision” and “Cittàbapini,” the two plays Loy published in Rogue (1915); how could I have known of Pound’s note on Loy appearing in the Italian publication Il Mare (1933); or that one of Loy’s aphorisms adorned the cover of Jerome Rothenberg’s anthology, Revolution of the Word (1974), particularly since the Exact Change reprint (1998) tucks it after the introduction? These items are by no means trivial to scholars concerned with the nature of Loy’s appearance, not just in the early century’s little magazines such as Camera Work, Others, Trend, and The Blind Man...