Midnight empties the street
Of all but us
I am undecided which way back
To the left a boy
—One wing has been washed in the rain
The other will never be clean any more—
Pulling door-bells to remind
Those that are snug
In 1921 Ezra Pound wrote to Marianne Moore: "Is there anyone in America except you, Bill [William Carlos Williams] 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.
Mina Loy was born in London on December 27, 1882. She attended a conservative art school and was influenced early on by Impressionism. She achieved some success as a painter, and 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 the United States in 1916, although her reputation preceded her. While hailed as representing the New Woman and the last word in modern verse, Loy's poetry 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/boxer Arthur Cravan, whom she married in 1918. In 1921, Pound extolled the virtues of her work to his closest friends, and in 1926, Yvor Winters compared her to Emily Dickinson.
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.
Lunar Baedecker [sic] (1923)
Lunar Baedeker & Time-Tables (1958)
The Last Lunar Baedeker (1982)
The Lost Lunar Baedeker (1996)