Becoming Modern: The Life of Mina Loy [NOOK Book]


The poet and visual artist Mina Loy has long had an underground reputation as an exemplary avant-gardist. Born in London of mixed Jewish and English parentage, and a much photographed beauty, she moved in the pivotal circles of international modernism--in Florence as Gertrude Stein's friend and Marinetti's lover; in New York as Marcel Duchamp's co-conspirator and Djuna Barnes's confidante; in Mexico with the greatest love, the notorious boxer-poet Arthur Cravan; in Paris with the Surrealists and Man Ray. Carolyn ...

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Becoming Modern: The Life of Mina Loy

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The poet and visual artist Mina Loy has long had an underground reputation as an exemplary avant-gardist. Born in London of mixed Jewish and English parentage, and a much photographed beauty, she moved in the pivotal circles of international modernism--in Florence as Gertrude Stein's friend and Marinetti's lover; in New York as Marcel Duchamp's co-conspirator and Djuna Barnes's confidante; in Mexico with the greatest love, the notorious boxer-poet Arthur Cravan; in Paris with the Surrealists and Man Ray. Carolyn Burke's riveting, authoritative biography brings this highly original and representative figure wonderfully alive, in the process giving us a new picture of modernism--and one woman's important contribution to it.

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Editorial Reviews

Megan Harlan

Her contemporaries considered Mina Loy to be one of the great Modernist poets, as well as perhaps the first "Modern woman." After decades of obscurity, her recent "rediscovery" poses a peculiar challenge for readers of poetry and redressers of history. Will her dazzling and far more easily apprehended legend-in-the-making -- that of a glamorous bohemian chameleon whose friends and admirers included Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Djuna Barnes, Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp -- overshadow the formidably difficult brilliance of her work?

To read Burke's lush, nuanced biography is to marvel at how aptly Loy served as a "cartographer of the imagination" in the post-Victorian era: her hand sculpted burgeoning movements from feminism to Futurism. She had an impeccable instinct for being at the right place at the right time. Her strict religious upbringing in late 19th-century London gave her cause for rebellion, and she escaped to study art in Surrealist Paris where she married and had children. Later she settled in Florence and had a tumultuous affair with the Futurist theorist F.T. Marinetti.

When she moved to Dadaist New York, her reputation as a "shocking" and even obscene poet preceded her. (That reputation wasn't dented when she followed her notorious true love, the poet-boxer Arthur Cravan, to revolutionary Mexico in 1917.) Loy made a living creating ethereal objets d'art in post-war Europe and spent her later years (she died in 1966) living, painting, and writing poetry on New York's Bowery -- with the bums for her muses.

Burke's effort stands on its own as a tract on international Modernist history with one beautiful woman "genius" at its center. But as distractingly attractive as this idea is, there's also an artist's aesthetic to consider: Ezra Pound, in order to discuss Loy's poetry, created the word "logopoeia" ("poetry that is akin to nothing but language, which is a dance of intelligence among words and ideas..."); Yvor Winters compared her work to Wallace Stevens's and Marianne Moore's as among "the most astonishing." The biography recreates a marvelous legend, but, offering no examination of the poetry except as windows into Loy's personal life, invariably leads to this glaring question: what of the poetry?

In his introduction to her generously annotated selected works, Conover, Loy's literary executor, suggests Loy "should first be apprehended at poem-level." He's absolutely right. Though T.S. Eliot complained of her lacking an "oeuvre," Loy's poems make up in density (and, along with it, a sometimes overwhelming abstruseness) what they lack in quantity. Their effect is very similar to the cut-crystal intellectual and emotional exactitude of Emily Dickinson's -- had the latter's subjects also extended to prostitution, childbirth, and gender battles. Under a veneer of labyrinthine lyric beauty lies a perspicaciousness, honesty and wit of which Denise Levertov has said: "Bite on it, you'll break your teeth." And get out the dictionary, since words like "sialalogues," "glumes," and "phthisis" appear like so many exotic flowers.

Loy is tough. But if ever there were an era ready to decipher her self-described "music made of visual thoughts," visionary confessionalism, and sexual frankness, it's now. -- Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Thirty years after her death, Mina Loy (1882-1966) remains the most obscure of the great modernist poets-a public scandal in the New York of the 1910s, a forgotten literary innovator soon afterward. Burke, a pioneering scholar in the rediscovery of Loy, has written the first comprehensive biography of this intriguing figure. She draws on interviews and Loy's private papers to illuminate some of the murkier years of the poet's glamorous life, especially her final reclusive years and her Victorian English girlhood. After coming to America in 1916, Loy helped invent the techniques of American modernist poetry, hobnobbing with fellow poets Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams as well as with painters such as Marcel Duchamp. Her outrageously witty, often obscene verse had a decisive role in the development of modern poetry. Burke follows Loy's wanderings from Greenwich Village to Mexico, from Paris to Aspen, turning up plenty of good stories and delightful gossip. The author does not spend much of the book reading Loy's poetry, interpreting it strictly as coded autobiography. But this story should make anyone interested in literature curious to investigate the work of this brilliant poet. An important contribution to a neglected corner of modern literary history. Photos not seen by PW. (July) ~ FYI: FSG will concurrently publish a selection of Loy's poetry, The Lost Lunar Baedeker.
Library Journal
Burke (English, Univ. of California-Santa Cruz) has written a comprehensive biography of poet and visual artist Mina Loy. Burke sees Loy (1882-1966) as the prototypical New Woman of the 20th century, experimenting in free verse, in fashion and design, and in creating a life in a world where Victorian values no longer applied. Loy lived in the company of major shapers of international modernism, such as Gertrude Stein, Djuna Barnes, Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and Mabel Dodge, in Florence, Paris, and New York for most of her adult life. Though little known today, she was widely published in American literary magazines between the two world wars. Burke is objective and insightful in her use of Loy's letters, manuscripts, and personal papers and of autobiographical interpretations of Loy's poetry. She has also used the letters, biographies, and critical writing of others who knew Loy. Highly recommended for comprehensive literature and modernism collections.-Judy Mimken, Boise P.L., Id.
A biography of the avant-garde poet and visual artist and her travels in modernist circles from Greenwich Village to Mexico, drawing on her private papers and interviews. Includes b&w photos. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Thom Gunn
Mina Loy: there was the legend of her life and the reputation of her poetry, both of them oddly difficult to check up on....Burke's biography fills in the gaps between the few facts we have been able to pick up earlier and makes sense of what is in any case a remarkable life. -- Thom Gunn, Times Literary Supplement
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374709549
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 7/25/1996
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 250
  • Sales rank: 1,267,647
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Carolyn Burke

Carol Burke is the author of Becoming Modern.

Carol Burke is the author of Becoming Modern.
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