Mina Loy: Bohemian Artist and Poet

One of the delights of writing stories set in the past is discovering, or re-discovering people who’ve left behind intriguing pieces of work.   We all know the big names of the Jazz Age, but whilst researching books my character, Jackie, may have read, I came across a name which I’d never heard before:  Mina Loy. 

The avant-garde poet, artist, and playwright was born  on December 27, 1882 in London.

At the age of seventeen she moved to the Munich, Germany to study painting.    After marrying Stephen Haweis, she moved with him to Paris where she joined the circle of leading avant-garde artists including Gertrude Stein, Picasso, Djuna Barnes, and Henri Rosseau. 

loy2.jpg (61528 bytes)

Consider Your Grandmother’s Stays: drawing by Mina Loy, 1916

In 1907, Mina and Stephen moved to Florence, Italy.  Soon thereafter, they separated and she began a relationship with Filippo Marinetti, leader of the Futurist Movement.  

Eight years later, Mina wrote “Love Songs” which shocked readers with its frank portrayal of human sexuality.  Imagist poet, Amy Lowel, was so incensed by its publication in Others  that she stopped submitting her own work to the magazine.

By 1916,  Loy had grown wary of the Futurist Movement’s growing attachment to fascism, and she moved to New York City where  she befriended the likes of Marcel Duchamp and Marianne Moore.   She continued to write poetry, and perform in local plays, while her spiritual beliefs led her to Christian Scientism. 

After falling in love with the Dadaist poet, Arthur Craven, she moved with him to Mexico City where they lived in desolute conditions.   In 1919, after Mina discovered she was pregnant, Craven insisted he must find a better place for them to live.   Using a small yacht, he set sail for Buenos Aires whilst Mina watched from the shore.

Craven was never seen alive again.  His daughter was born in April.

Unable to accept Craven’s death, Mina flitted around from Florence to New York to Paris back to New York, and finally settled in Colorado in her final years.   To the time of her death at the age of eighty-three, she never stopped creating art. 

Lunar Baedeker

by Mina Loy:

A silver Lucifer
cocaine in cornucopia
To some somnambulists
of adolescent thighs
in satirical draperies
Peris is livery
for posthumous parvenues
Delirious Avenues
with the chandelier souls
of infusoria
from Pharoah’s tombstones
to mercurial doomsdays
Odious oasis
in furrowed phosphorous
the eye-white sky-light
white-light district
of lunar lusts
Stellectric signs

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18 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Wow. I love the fourth verse down in her poem: “Delirious Avenues/lit/with the chandelier souls…” How delightfully sinister, yet charmingly accurate. These images are something Anne Sexton would have tried for.

    It will be rather interesting what you do with Jackie, with Mina Loy as an influence. I always found it intriguing how some novelist are able to capture a setting so well that the accepted of today is felt as the taboo from yesterday.

  2. Never heard of her either. Can’t say I understand her poem, have to read it a few more times, probably. Sounds like she had quite an extraordinary life for a woman at that time.

  3. Yeah, I haven’t heard of her either

  4. Hi Jessica,

    I love that bit, too. But I think my favorite is: “the eye-white sky-light
    white-light district
    of lunar lusts”.

    While Jackie isn’t based on Mina, I did sense some similarities while I read about Mina. 🙂

  5. Hey DD,

    Don’t worry. I can’t say I understand the poem either. And it’s not my usual taste. But I love how she plays with the words. Some of the word combinations sound delicious to my ears. (especially the ones noted above)

  6. Hey Chazz,

    In 1921, Ezra Pound wrote that Mina, Marianne Moore, and William Carlos Williams, were the only people in American writing interesting verse.

    I wonder if she would be more remembered if she’d concentrated more in one area, rather than branching out in so many different ones.

  7. I don’t really understand the poem although I like the verse, the eye-white sky-light/white-light district/of lunar lusts.

    I really like the artwork. Even though the head looks a little funny it fits.

  8. Ilove her name. Mina Loy. It sounds so perfect.
    Forgot to mention that the magic in New Guinea went on a lot. Telepathy was widely practised and also raising people from the dead. My father who is a sceptic, swears of a story of a European friend of his who was raised from the dead. I’m a big believer in that type of thing. We are looking at a culture of people who in the highlands were still practising headhunting when I was living there as a little girl. xx

  9. Man, what a life that woman had!

    Her word choices are interesting, and sort of violently visual — but I’m going to need to read this one several times before I get anything out of it, I think.

  10. Hi Josephine,

    Her name is great, isn’t it? 🙂 Reminds me of Myrna Loy.

    Thanks so much for sharing more info on New Guinea with me. So fascinating!

  11. Hey Amy,

    Yeah, there is a strength and violence to them. From what I’ve read, people such as Amy Lowell, weren’t upset about her writing about sexual topics (that wasn’t taboo with the avant-garde group) but with the fact that she wrote about it in a very direct, uncensored manner.

  12. Thank goodness freedom of expression has grown since then and for people like this who wrote even if they were outside of the “box” they were supposed to stay in.

  13. I like “white-light district/ Of lunar lusts”. Did she write that after her lover’s disappearance? It would explain the longing and death in the poem.

  14. Heya Colby,

    Here! Here!

  15. Hi Marian,

    That’s a good question. Unfortunately, I don’t know exactly when she wrote the poem. If I find out, I’ll let you know. 🙂

  16. Myrna Loy was the first thing that popped into my head, too!
    I’d never heard of Mina, but it’s a name I’ll be sure to look for now as I read about this era a lot!

  17. Hi Dominque,

    Please let me know if you find any good books dealing with her.

  18. […] couple of days ago, Gypsy Scarlett posted this poem on her bog.  Something about it really draws me in, so I thought I would take a moment to share my thoughts […]

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