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Textual Fluidity, or Why We Need to Acknowledge Poetry Books in Multiple Versions

Visions and Revisions: The Multiple Lives of Mina Loy’s Lunar Baedeker

Diane Drouin

Résumés

Les éditeurs des quatre recueils de poèmes de Mina Loy que sont Lunar Baedecker (1923), Lunar Baedeker and Time-Tables (1958), The Last Lunar Baedeker (1982) et The Lost Lunar Baedeker (1996) ont tous choisi comme titre une variante de la même métaphore lunaire. Toutefois, la perspective téléologique et linéaire projetée sur le Lunar Baedeker de Loy, menant du volume initial Lunar Baedecker à la variante du Lunar Baedeker and Time-Tables, puis à la « dernière » version, avant d’atteindre une ultime version « perdue » mérite d’être réexaminée. Bien que chaque recueil offre un aperçu précieux de l’œuvre de Loy, aucun ne constitue une version stable ou définitive du texte. Ces versions offrent plutôt différentes facettes de la vision poétique de l’auteure. De nombreuses strates textuelles apparaissent ainsi, caractérisées par des phénomènes de transformation et d’instabilité. Cet article suggère que les notions de vision et de cadrage permettent de rendre compte des multiples versions du Lunar Baedeker de Loy, d’une part à travers les constantes révisions et réécritures de son œuvre poétique, et d’autre part à travers le processus éditorial et les approches critiques qui ont façonné la réception de ses poèmes au fil des années. Malgré diverses tentatives éditoriales qui ont essayé de fixer ses poèmes dans le cadre d’un recueil définitif, ses livres de poésie sont toujours insaisissables et en constante évolution. L’analyse des multiples formes du Lunar Baedeker de Loy, allant de ses manuscrits dans les archives des Mina Loy Papers à ses recueils imprimés, en passant par les récentes versions numériques de ses poèmes, permet de porter un nouveau regard sur son œuvre.

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  • 1 When publishing Loy’s Lunar Baedecker in his Contact Collection of Contemporary Writers, Robert McA (...)

1The British-American artist, poet, and novelist Mina Loy (1882-1966) is mostly known today for her avant-garde poems of the 1920s, gathered in the collections Lunar Baedecker (1923), Lunar Baedeker & Time-Tables (1958), The Last Lunar Baedeker (1982), and The Lost Lunar Baedeker (1996). Loy, who was born in London in 1882 and who died in Aspen, Colorado, in 1966, is one of the most creative and complex figures of the transatlantic avant-gardes. 2023 marked the hundredth anniversary of the publication of her first collection of poems, Lunar Baedecker, gathering poems which greatly contributed to her transatlantic reputation in the late 1910s and early 1920s.1 At the time, Loy was acclaimed as a flamboyant poet of the avant-gardes, combining beauty and wit, and displaying a certain taste for provocation. Soon after her arrival in America in 1916, after a long trip that led her from Florence to New York for the first time, an anonymous piece published in the New York Evening Sun recognized in her the perfect embodiment of the “New Woman” and of the “Modern Woman.” While the article praised her assertive personality and her ground-breaking poems, the caption accompanying her picture reads: “Her clothes suggest the smartest shops but her poems would have puzzled Grandma” (“Do You Strive” 10). Indeed, the sequence of poems “Love Songs to Joannes,” which was to be published in Lunar Baedeker a few years later, seemed daring enough to provoke curiosity and bewilderment.

2Beyond purely poetic matters, Loy’s agency in the publication process of her collections of poems extends to material concerns, such as book covers. In 1958, when a number of Loy’s poems were published once again in the collection Lunar Baedeker and Time-Tables, she insisted on having a photograph of her reframed before it was printed on the back cover. She asked the editor Jonathan Williams, then at the head of Jargon Press, to reframe the picture at eye level, thereby cutting off the lower part of her face that was showing signs of wrinkles and old age. This new framing creates a sense of defamiliarization and is rather surprising as far as authors’ photographs go, placing vision at the heart of her aesthetics.

3I argue that these notions of vision and reframing can be metaphorically extended to the multiple versions of Loy’s Lunar Baedeker, first through her own constant revisions and rewritings of her work, and then through the editorial process and critical approaches that reframed her poems and their reception over the years. I suggest that, despite various editorial attempts at containing and fixing her poems within the scope of a final collection, her poetry books are elusive and constantly evolving. Analyzing the multiple forms of Loy’s Lunar Baedeker, from her manuscripts in the archives of the Mina Loy Papers at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, to her printed collections, and even to recent digital versions of her poems, allows for a fruitful reframing of her work. Loy’s Lunar Baedeker is therefore made of lively matter; her ever-evolving collections are not fixed or definitive but should be regarded as a work in progress, shaped by the author, the editors, and the readers alike.

Recovering Mina Loy: The Myth of a Definitive Lunar Baedeker

4Many of Loy’s poems were first published in modernist magazines such as Others, Camera Work, or The Little Review, before appearing in print in one or several versions of her Lunar Baedekers. In an August 1915 issue of the little magazine Rogue, for example, Loy’s poem “Virgins Plus Curtains Minus Dots” appeared alongside a black and white drawing by Clara Tice entitled Virgin Minus Verse (Tice 10-11). This stylized drawing portrays a young woman with dark hair tightened in a high bun, wearing a corset and black ballet shoes, suggesting the elegant attitude of an experienced dancer. The caption above the drawing reads: “Miss Tice’s little ladies fastening garters look as if they should be set to music—Dame Rogue.”

5Despite Loy’s growing 1910s-1920s reputation as a modern, innovative and provocative writer, she almost disappeared from the literary and critical scene between the 1930s and the 1980s. In the late 1950s, while the poet had settled in Aspen, Colorado, to be near her daughters, the publication of the collection Lunar Baedeker & Time-Tables by Jonathan Williams in 1958, and the exhibition of her collages and assemblages at the Bodley Gallery in New York in 1959 tried to place Loy center-stage again. Alongside Loy’s photograph in black and white, the back cover of Lunar Baedeker and Time-Tables featured praise by several major figures of the literary scene, including the American novelist Henry Miller: “An interplanetary voice whose subtle vibrations only faintly pierce our smug-laden atmosphere” (Miller quoted in Loy, 1958 back cover) Alfred Kreymborg, who had known Loy for decades, also highly recommended the reading of the collection:

I still consider her one of our best poets and one of the most original. And had the honor of introducing poems of hers in the first number of my magazine “Others,” back in 1915. The four numbers were simply entitled “Love Poems,” and made a deep impression for their bold images, forthright character and, in the worst sense, their shocking impact on people with sensitive or sentimental nerves. Those days are by no means over with me. They come alive again and again against a background beneath a foreground of the Imagist period. And so I wish the beautiful Mina the place she deserves via her new Volume. (Kreymborg quoted in Loy, 1958 back cover)

6By alluding to Loy’s “Love Poems”—her “Love Songs to Joannes”—and to her “bold images,” Kreymborg sought to spark the readers’ interest and to pique their curiosity. However, Loy did not recover the popularity that was hers in the 1920s before her death in 1966.

7The explicitly transatlantic dimension of Loy’s life and work, and her refusal to belong to any single aesthetic movement, as Yasna Bozhkova recently pointed out in Between Worlds: Mina Loy’s Aesthetic Itineraries, turned her into a singular, nomadic, and unclassifiable artist, thus contributing to her marginalization (Bozhkova 4-5). For a long time, Loy wasn’t considered part of the canonical figures of modernist literature and her texts have only recently appeared within the pages of literary anthologies, such as The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature (Parini and Leininger 523-525). In 1982, Hugh Kenner lamented her striking lack of visibility: “Her utter absence from all canonical lists is one of modern literary history’s most perplexing data” (Kenner 7). The gradual recovery of her work by American scholarship was a slow process, over the course of the last decades of the twentieth century.

8The 1980s witnessed what has often been construed as the recovery of Loy’s work. In Mina Loy, American Modernist Poet, Virginia Kouidis was one of the first scholars to take interest in her poetry, adopting a feminist perspective and placing Loy within the broader context of modernist American poetry. This Americanization of Loy was not new. In a piece published in The Little Review in 1918, Ezra Pound had already identified her, along with the poet Marianne Moore, as an American writer:

Mina Loy and Marianne Moore who have, without exaggerated “nationalism,” without waving of banners […] succeeded in, or fallen into producing something distinctly American in quality, not merely distinguishable as Americans by reason of current national faults. […] The arid clarity, not without its own beauty, of le tempérament de l’Américaine, is in the poems of these two writers. The point of my praise, for I intend this as praise […], is that without any pretences and without clamors about nationality these girls have written a distinctly national product, have written something which could not have come out of any other country, and (while I have before now seen a deal of rubbish by both of them) they are interesting and readable (by me, that is, I am aware that even the poem before me would drive numerous not unintelligent readers into a fury of rage-out-of-puzzlement). (Pound 57)

9Pound’s somewhat misogynistic and condescending comment, combined with half-hearted praise, heralds the later recovery of Loy’s work by American scholarship, reclaiming her as an American poet. This tension surrounding the Americanization of Loy can be summed up by Arthur Cravan’s phrase “To Be or Not To Be… American,” the title of an essay published in the first issue of the magazine Maintenant: “Aujourd’hui tout le monde est américain. Il faut être américain, ou tout au moins le paraître, ce qui est exactement la même chose” (Cravan 113).

10The question of Loy’s double nationality allowed American critics to reclaim her cultural legacy, often cutting her off from her British background and from the European avant-gardes. In her 1925 essay “Modern Poetry,” Loy claims: “It was inevitable that the renaissance of poetry should proceed out of America, where latterly a thousand languages have been born” (Loy, 1996 158). This remark led Marjorie Perloff to locate Loy’s Americanness in her unique use of language:

“For what does make Loy, like her friend Gertrude Stein, so curiously ‘American’ is her invention of an intricately polyglot language—a language that challenged the more conventional national idiom of her British (as well as her French or Italian or, paradoxically, even her American) contemporaries” (1998 195).

11Such a take can be debatable, often downplaying Loy’s British upbringing, leading Matthew Hart to regret the fact that “many of Loy’s interpreters have described her as a fundamentally rootless poet or […] as one whose cosmopolitanism marks an inevitable trajectory toward America’ (184). His reading of Loy’s long poem “Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose” offers a convincing analysis that aims at “denationalizing Loy,” “considering attempts to recruit the expatriate Anglo-Jewish poet for the canons of American literature” (178) and pointing at the complexities of her so-called Americanness. Addressing this gap in literary scholarship, Rachel Potter and Suzanne Hobson opted for a British and European focus, showcasing “British-based scholarship” (iii), when editing the 2010 collection The Salt Companion to Mina Loy, which includes essays on Loy’s autobiographies set in Victorian London and on her unique position within the avant-garde movements of Futurism and Surrealism.

12Soon after the publication of Kouidis’s book, Roger Conover (Loy’s literary executor and the former head of MIT Press), published two major reeditions of her work, first in The Last Lunar Baedeker (1982) then in The Lost Lunar Baedeker (1996). These two posthumous volumes, which included a number of previously unpublished texts in verse and in prose, significantly contributed to the rediscovery of Loy’s work at the end of the twentieth century, making her poems available to a wider readership. One of the most striking additions, when examining the table of contents of The Last Lunar Baedeker, is the publication of Loy’s long autobiographical poem “Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose,” divided into several sections: “Exodus,” focusing on Loy’s Jewish father, “English Rose,” portraying Loy’s mother, “Mongrel Rose,” depicting Loy’s complex and hybrid identity. The following sections, centered around the figure of “Ova,” reflect on her British and Jewish culture, also at the heart of Loy’s autobiographical texts in prose, “Goy Israels,” “The Child and the Parent,” and “Islands in the Air.” Some passages had already been published under the title “Anglo-Mystics and the Rose” in Lunar Baedeker and Time-Tables in 1958, but the 1982 edition clearly encouraged an autobiographical reading of her poems. For reasons of lack of space, “Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose” could not be included in The Lost Lunar Baedeker, an exclusion which Conover regrets:

The publisher’s parameters for this edition made it impossible to include Loy’s longest poem […]. To have included “Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose” would have meant relinquishing half the poems presently included or sacrificing the notes; it would have transformed this edition from a generous selection into something altogether different: Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose and Other Poems. I considered excerpting some of its most arresting sections […]. But this would have meant trading in the architecture for a few bricks. I decided to seek separate publication of the entire text. (1996a 171-172)

13While Loy’s “Feminist Manifesto” appears both in The Last Lunar Baedeker and The Lost Lunar Baedeker, the 1982 edition includes essays such as “Notes on Childhood” and “Phenomenon in American Art,” examining the works of Joseph Cornell and Constantin Brancusi, and also highlighting Loy’s prominent role as an art critic. The Lost Lunar Baedeker encompasses a larger range of poems, divided into chronological sections: “Futurism x Feminism,” “Songs to Joannes,” “Corpses and Geniuses,” and “Compensations of Poverty,” which includes Loy’s late poems, written when she was living in the Bowery neighborhood in New York in the 1940s. Departing from his chronological logic, Conover chose to add a final section dedicated to prose, entitled “Excavations & Precisions,” featuring Loy’s “Aphorisms on Futurism,” and her essay “Modern Poetry,” originally published in the little magazine Charm in 1925 and “newly discovered” in the 1990s (Conover, 1996b xviii). Conover’s valuable notes and critical comments on the texts helped the readers contextualize Loy’s poems and frame them under a new light.

  • 2 A second biography of Loy was published in 2022 by Mary Ann Caws, entitled Mina Loy: Apology of Gen (...)

14The earliest versions and drafts of these texts remain, for the most part, in the archives of the Beinecke Library. These valuable reeditions sparked off a renewed interest in Loy and paved the way for a greater recognition of her work. Simultaneously, Carolyn Burke published the first biography of Loy, entitled Becoming Modern: The Life of Mina Loy (1996).2 This insightful biography, relying on a thorough analysis of Loy’s archives, constituted a pivotal moment for Loy studies. Burke traced the poet’s cosmopolitan trajectory and intertwined the study of her life, of her texts and of her works of art, relying on letters and unpublished manuscripts. Considered as a diptych, Burke’s Becoming Modern and Conover’s Lost Lunar Baedeker constituted major contributions to the renewal of Loy studies in the late 1990s.

  • 3 The numerous articles, book chapters, and monographs on Loy published over the last few years led J (...)

15The editors of Loy’s four collections of poems—Lunar Baedecker, Lunar Baedeker and Time-Tables, The Last Lunar Baedeker and The Lost Lunar Baedeker—all chose a range of titles based on the same lunar metaphor of the “Lunar Baedeker,” thus suggesting that the 1923 Lunar Baedecker was the original version of Loy’s work, and that the following volumes constituted variations, and rewritings of the initial poetry book. If we follow the underlying logic guiding the publication and reedition process of Loy’s texts, an original version precedes all the others. Conover promises the readers a final version of Loy’s poems in The Last Lunar Baedeker, before heralding the rediscovery of “lost” texts in The Lost Lunar Baedeker: “Twentieth-century poetry’s lost guidebook surfaces after we thought all the evidence was in” (Conover, 1996b xiii). This editorial stance, meant to attract readers, relies on the myth of an original body of work, that has been lost over the years and has to be retrieved in order to reach a definitive version. Conover acknowledges his role, as an editor, in the constitution of such a myth: “In order to read her, we not only have to get past neglect; we have to get past legend. […] I first edited Loy’s work in 1982. At the time, publishing her work felt more like a cause than an editorial occasion. The Last Lunar Baedeker circulated like a secret handshake and has since become part of the Loy myth” (1996b xviii). This paradox—by essence, what has been truly lost is not retrievable—is at the heart of the edition of Loy’s numerous unpublished manuscripts and typescripts, kept in the archives of the Beinecke Library. Similarly, Karla Kelsey’s forthcoming edition of Loy’s unpublished autobiographical novels, “The Child and the Parent” and “Islands in the Air,” is titled The Lost Novels. This editorial discourse relying on the loss of an original text and on its timely recovery has framed the rehabilitation of Loy’s reputation since the 1980s.3

16And yet, Loy’s poems have never been “lost”: without underestimating the considerable amount of editorial and critical work achieved by her editors, it seems essential to note that the Mina Loy Papers at the Beinecke Library are relatively easy to find and to decipher. Thanks to Loy’s daughter, Joella Bayer, who bequeathed her mother’s archives to the Beinecke in 1974, eight years after her death, all her manuscripts and typescripts are gathered in one place, making the task of scholars and editors somewhat easier. Loy’s manuscripts bear the mark of multiple revisions and of the different stages of the writing process—one file is even titled “Different phases in composing a poem” (Loy, Mina Loy Papers B5 F75). The first version of a poem was most often handwritten, with many words crossed out on the page and replaced by others, before she registered the modifications on a clearer typescript. Once she had reached that stage, she would cross out the lines on the handwritten draft, so as to indicate that they had been incorporated within the typescript. As Daniel Ferrer points out in Logiques du brouillon, this creative process was rather common among writers, including James Joyce and Gustave Flaubert (13).

17Loy’s writing process is particularly visible in the manuscript of her 1942 poem “On Third Avenue,” (Loy, Mina Loy Papers B5 F112), which includes multiple versions of the text, as well as sketches, and clear marks of revision over time. The drafts reveal the original title of the poem, “Gloria Populi,” far more cryptic than the easily identifiable “Third Avenue,” which distinctly sets the scene in New York City. The handwritten manuscript also shows the various layouts of the poem, as Loy played around with line breaks. The initial lines “saturnine neon signs / lighting to blackness / their countenances” went through different stages of revisions (https://archives.yale.edu/​repositories/​11/​archival_objects/​674975), before Loy reached the typescript version, later printed in The Lost Lunar Baedeker:

Here and there
Saturnine
Neon-signs
Set afire
A feature
On their hueless overcast
Of down-cast countenances. (Loy, Mina Loy Papers, B5 F112)

18The multiple versions of Loy’s poems, intermingled with drawings and various scraps of paper, attest to the fluidity of her writing process. Her lines—those of her poems and those of her sketches in the margins of her manuscripts—are never stable but constantly moving and evolving into something unexpected.

19Several editions of Loy’s manuscripts have marked the past decades and constituted major shifts in the reappraisal of her work. In 1991, Elizabeth Arnold edited Loy’s semi-autobiographical novel Insel, later reedited in 2014 along with the fragmentary text “Visitation of Insel” presented by Sarah Hayden. In her introduction, Hayden sheds light on the material fragmentation of the text: “[it] runs across forty-five small, handwritten and numbered pieces of plain paper. Most of the pages fit only one to three of Loy’s characteristically long sentences, and they appear to have been torn to size along a roughly horizontal line” (Hayden quoted in Loy, 2014 xxxiii). The work of the editor therefore consists in assembling the various pieces of this textual jigsaw puzzle. The methods of genetic criticism allow the editor to account for Loy’s writing process. As Daniel Ferrer explains, this operation is essential to achieve a “final” version of the text:

Restituer, en quelque sorte cinématographiquement, le déroulement de l’écriture, le mouvement de la création littéraire, à partir des plans fixes que constituent les manuscrits de travail des écrivains, c’est en effet le but que se propose cette discipline qu’on appelle génétique textuelle ou critique génétique. Il s’agit de juxtaposer les « états de texte » contenus dans les manuscrits, d’analyser les différences de l’un à l’autre et d’en déduire les processus de transformation qui aboutissent à la version finale. (3)

20Similarly in 2011, Sara Crangle edited a number of short texts in prose in the collection Stories and Essays of Mina Loy, relying on the Mina Loy Papers to uncover unpublished short stories, short plays and essays. As Laura Scuriatti recently pointed out in Mina Loy’s Critical Modernism, Loy’s archives play an essential part in the rediscovery and recovery process of her work: “part of the work of rediscovering Loy has been that of assembling a corpus, of creating an oeuvre out of a large quantity of unpublished and unedited material” (4). Defining Loy’s work only through the lens of her published poems and edited poetry collections therefore seems reductive, in that it does not account for her versatile skills and for the complexity of her work.

21Besides, there exist many versions of Loy’s poems and texts in prose in her manuscripts. As Conover’s notes show in both The Last Lunar Baedeker and The Lost Lunar Baedeker, the texts offered to the readers result from his own choices as editor regarding the version of the poems that he thought most adequate and fit for publication in his “restored” collection. The poem “Parturition” (Loy, 1996 4), for instance, first appeared in print in the little magazine The Trend, in October 1914. This poem, describing the transformative experience of childbirth, was written in Florence, shortly before Loy wrote her “Feminist Manifesto.” However, according to Conover, “Mina Loy explicitly objected to the punctuation that had been added in the printed version” (1996 176). Loy’s position on the matter, detailed in a letter to her friend Carl Van Vechten, who was also the editor of The Trend at the time, led Conover to adopt the handwritten version of the poem when including it in The Lost Lunar Baedeker.

22The process of so-called recovery and rediscovery therefore entails a great deal of agency on the part of the editors. The teleological and linear perspective on Loy’s Lunar Baedeker, leading from the original volume of Lunar Baedecker to the variation of Lunar Baedeker and Time-Tables, then to a final “last” version and finally to an ultimate “lost” version, should therefore be reconsidered. While each collection offers a valuable insight into Loy’s work, none amounts to a “perfect” object or to a stable version. As Roger Conover acknowledges, such a definitive version is impossible to achieve:

When I started this project, I imagined arriving at one set of principles by which all editorial questions could be resolved. I imagined producing a definitive text, revealing the poet’s intention for the posthumous publication of her work. But for anyone who knows the Mina Loy file and the history of ambiguous and unstable features surrounding her publications, the idea of determining a definitive text is wishful at best. (1996a 169)

23Rather, the collections should be regarded more horizontally as different versions of Loy’s poetic vision, since some poems are absent from certain poetry books while they appear in others. Notwithstanding the significant exclusion of “Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose,” as mentioned above, The Lost Lunar Baedeker is clearly the most complete collection of Loy’s poems. Multiple layers of text are thus displayed, characterized by constant alteration and instability.

Instability and Intermediality: Loy’s Lunar Baedekers Across Media

24The instability of Loy’s Lunar Baedekers does not come as a surprise when examining her aesthetics of multiplicity and fragmentation, drawing on literary techniques that remind the reader of the visual arts, of cubist collage, montage and assemblage. In the introduction to her biography Becoming Modern, Carolyn Burke notes: “We see her as an innovative poet with her roots in art; she saw herself as a painter called to language” (Burke, 1996 viii). It seems relevant to explore the articulations between the visual and the textual, between Loy’s poems and her visual art—not in order to fix her anywhere she didn’t want to be, but rather to examine the liminal, interstitial and in-between space that characterizes both her texts and her works of art. In his 2006 article celebrating the exhibition “Daughters of Dada” at the Francis Naumann Gallery in New York, Roger Conover declared: “Mina Loy the poet has been discovered, but Mina Loy the visual artist remains a secret” (Conover, 2006 37). Conover echoes Loy’s lines in her 1914 poem “Virgins Plus Curtains Minus Dots”: “A secret well-kept / Makes the noise of the world” (Loy, 1996 22). These aphoristic lines and the idea of a “secret well-kept” both highlight the tensions between the private sphere and the public sphere and, more broadly, those surrounding the question of Loy’s fluctuating reputation in the public eye over the course of the twentieth century, when her texts and her name were mostly disseminated within a restricted circle of enlightened readers and scholars.

25In her introduction to Becoming Modern, Carolyn Burke also relates T. S. Eliot’s scathing comments on Loy’s work: “T. S. Eliot said that it was hard to evaluate [Loy] because she lacked an ‘oeuvre’” (1996 viii). Burke refers to a piece published in The Egoist in 1918. Under the pseudonym of T. S. Apteryx, Eliot praises Loy’s poem entitled “The Effectual Marriage” (Loy, 1996 36) and further explains: “It is impossible to tell whether there is a positive œuvre or only a few successes. ‘Human Cylinders’ is not so good; she needs the support of the image, even if only as the instant point of departure; in this poem she becomes abstract, and the word separates from the thing” (Eliot 70). Such a remark is telling: beyond the underlying reproach, Eliot identifies the essential role played by images in Loy’s poems. This remark, which only takes into account her earlier poems, deserves to be re-evaluated in light of her many manuscripts and archival documents, all of which constitute a crucial part of her work.

26It is no wonder, then, that Loy’s poems tend to escape the fixed frame of the collection and to find new settings to blossom in, within or alongside her works of art. In the early 1930s, Loy’s son-in-law, Julien Levy, played an essential part in the exhibition of her works of art and contributed to her reputation as a visionary surrealist artist. He became Loy’s unofficial agent in the United States and made her poetry and her visual art known on the New York City scene. From 28 January to 18 February 1933, while Loy was still in Paris, Levy organized the first exhibition of her paintings and drawings (Levy 298). The exhibition, held at the Julien Levy Gallery on Madison Avenue, included eleven paintings and drawings by Loy: Moons, Moons, Comet, Teasing a Butterfly, Coronet, Maternity, Dawn, The Bewitched, Light, Stars, Stars. Particularly relevant to our analysis, the program of the exhibition featured an excerpt from Loy’s poem “Apology of Genius,” drawn from the collection Lunar Baedecker, highlighting the tight articulation of Loy’s poetic work and of her paintings, which are meant to be examined simultaneously (Burke, 1998 76). Considered together, Loy’s “Apology of Genius” and her paintings convey a strong cosmic dimension, while bringing spiritual and trivial matters together. Her poem relies on the tensions and contradictions between the sky gleaming with lights and stars and the raw reality of life, embodied by the “pulverous pastures of poverty” (Loy, 1996 77). The line “we forge the dusk of Chaos” (Loy, 1996 78) stresses the agency of the artist while heralding a later series of paintings by Loy entitled “Drift of Chaos” (Loy, in Carolyn Burke Collection B9).

27The familiarity with Loy’s artworks allows the attentive reader to draw connections with her poems and autobiographies in prose, and to alter their interpretation of the text. With the sixteen photographs of the paintings in mind––all taken by Maurice Poplin around 1933-1934––some passages from Loy’s surrealist novel Insel can be read under a different light. The narrator, Mrs Jones, explains her aesthetic principles to the eponymous character:

On his return, that look fell in with some photographs of paintings lying on the table.
Whose pictures are these?” asked Insel, immediately collected, and staring at each in turn with entire attention. “Who could have done these?”
“They are mine.”
“You are an extraordinarily gifted woman,” he said, still staring at them. “Oh, how I wish I could read your book.”
“It’s not like those pictures,” I laughed and told him their brief history.
“Those are my ‘last exhibition’ cancelled the moment the dealer set eyes on them.”
“Good God,” muttered Insel under his breath. (Loy, 2014 20)

28Loy’s texts constantly echo her artworks, as Burke points out: “Loy approached the blank page as if it were a canvas” (1987 107). Here, the artist’s blank canvas mirrors the writer’s blank page, at the intersection of various media: painting, writing, and photography. In Insel, the artistic failure of the main character paradoxically leads to the success of the narrative: while the narrator’s paintings do not encounter the expected success, writing Insel’s biography becomes a lifeline. And when she mentions “the mists of chaos curdling into shape” (Loy, 2014 20), the narrator inevitably conjures up the imagery of Loy’s series of paintings entitled “Drift of Chaos.”

  • 4 The success of the exhibition was such that it will be moving to Chicago in 2024, and possibly to L (...)

29After many years of speculation, an exhibition of Loy’s works of art entitled “Strangeness Is Inevitable” opened between April and September 2023 at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, in Maine. This highly anticipated event was curated by Jennifer Gross, with the collaboration of Roger Conover.4 The catalogue of the exhibition, edited by Jennifer Gross, Ann Lauterbach, Roger Conover, and Dawn Ades, not only features reproductions of Loy’s paintings and drawings, but also some of her most famous poems, including “Apology of Genius.”

From Print to Screen: Reading and Teaching Loy’s Lunar Baedeker in the Digital Age

30The various digital versions of Loy’s Lunar Baedeker greatly contributed to its afterlives. Contrary to the Mina Loy Papers, which have been carefully and entirely digitized by the Beinecke Library, the documents held in Carolyn Burke’s archives have been only partially digitized to this day. The many, still under-used documents of the Carolyn Burke Collection on Mina Loy and Lee Miller constitute an invaluable resource for scholars working on Loy. Collected in the 1990s, they trace the different stages of the writing process of Burke’s biography Becoming Modern and shed new light on Loy’s literary networks, her private life, and her place within transatlantic artistic circles.

  • 5 The first version of Loy’s “Feminist Manifesto” was included in a letter to her friend Mabel Dodge (...)
  • 6 Loy’s complex relationship to the Futurists has been discussed by a number of scholars, including b (...)

31Relying on the archives, the editors of Loy’s multiple Lunar Baedekers, whether in the print version or in the digital version, were faced with a major challenge: how should they transcribe Loy’s ornate manuscripts and typescripts onto the screen or page? Her handwriting is thankfully easily decipherable, facilitating the task of editors and scholars. However, the choice of typography in the edited versions of her texts raises the question of adaptation and of renewed versions of her work. The extent of these transformations can best be seen in the typography of her “Aphorisms on Futurism” and of her “Feminist Manifesto.” Both texts date from 1914, and both engage with the Futurist aesthetics that greatly influenced Loy during her extensive stay in Florence, between 1907 and 1916.5 Drawing on the Futurist aggressive style, Loy exposes her provocative views on progress and on femininity.6 Most strikingly, she also adopts the principles of Marinetti’s “parole-in-libertà,” defined by Marjorie Perloff in The Futurist Moment as “the visualization of the text that is neither quite “verse” nor “prose,” a text whose unit is neither the paragraph nor the stanza but the printed page itself” (Perloff, 1986 xviii). Inspired by the layout of billboards and newspapers headlines, the visual disposition of the words on the page matters just as much as their actual meaning and provides the text with dynamics of its own. In her “Aphorisms on Futurism,” Loy uses capital letters and italics to highlight certain words, typically at the beginning of each line, but also sometimes within the lines themselves:

YOU prefer to observe the past on which your eyes are already opened.
BUT the Future is only dark from outside.
Leap into it–and it EXPLODES with Light. (Loy, 1996 149)

  • 7 Loy’s poems belonging to her Florentine period, influenced by the Futurist movement, include “Itali (...)

32This hybrid layout, staging short phrases to produce a more dramatic effect, recalls both that of a manifesto and that of a poem.7 Loy’s Futurist aesthetics is not only conveyed through her vehement rhetoric praising movement and speed, but also through an irregular, even sometimes chaotic handwriting and layout on the page, mirroring the chaos of modern life. In his notes to The Lost Lunar Baedeker, Conover explains that the phrase “EXPLODES with Light” was highlighted in the manuscript “with more calligraphic flourish that can be expressed typographically” (1996 215). Loy opted for an irregular typography, infusing her manifesto with vivid visual energy.

  • 8 The poems and texts on the Mina Loy Online platform include “Aphorisms on Futurism,” Loy’s “Feminis (...)

33Typography and layout therefore play a major part in Loy’s poetry, and it is no easy task to convey that visual and textual fluidity onto the page. A failed pedagogical experience when teaching Loy’s “Parturition” (1996 4) led Andrew Pilsch to realize the utmost importance held by the spacing on the page, which is essential to the rendering of her work: “losing the typesetting in the online circulation of Loy’s work is a massive disservice to [her]” (245). As Pilsch pointed out, when digitizing some of Loy’s poems for the platform Mina Loy Online, “her typographic practices resist the informational rationality and linear, stable reading subject embedded in both print textual and online hypertextual practices” (245).8 The instability of Loy’s poems and collections thus extends to the page itself and pervades the computer screen, leading to digital versions of her work that require creativity on the editors’ part.

  • 9 The editors acknowledge the influence of the “Manifesto of Modernist Digital Humanities,” co-signed (...)
  • 10 The website’s logo features part of Clara Tice’s drawing reframing the stylized silhouette of the b (...)

34More recently, the editors of Mina Loy: Navigating the Avant-Garde drew on Loy’s formal and visual experiments to offer their own take on the genre of the manifesto: “We reanimate this genre for the digital age, experimenting with typeface and layout to encourage you to read online in new and unexpected ways” (Churchill, Kinnahan, and Rosenbaum 2020b).9 The challenge raised by the digitization of Loy’s work was met on a larger scale by this enticing website, which offers new forms of literary criticism and opens up promising pedagogical perspectives, ultimately testifying to the vitality of Loy scholarship today. As Juliette Utard suggests in her introduction to a 2022 issue of Sillages critiques, “The poetry book in the digital age can no longer be reduced to a receptacle merely hosting pre-existing content: rather, it refers to a pluralized field of media, all of which singularly shape and enrich the text” (Utard). Created by Suzanne Churchill, Linda Kinnahan, and Susan Rosenbaum, Navigating the Avant-Garde presents Loy and her various networks, playing with the possibilities offered by digital humanities.10 It has been supported by a Digital Humanities Advancement Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and has been awarded several scholarly prizes since its creation. The editors define their goals as follow:

- provide access to and interpretations of Loy’s verbal and visual work, much of which remains buried in archives or private collections; 

- transform close reading through multimodal tools and environments that activate verbal and visual reading practices; 

- develop a crowd-sourced, flash-mob, feminist theory that better accounts for the contributions of women and people of color to the avant-garde; 

- conduct an experiment in public humanities scholarship that involves scholars and students in transforming scholarly methods and products, tests new processes for peer review, and sets UX design standards for digital scholarship. (Churchill, Kinnahan, and Rosenbaum 2020a)

35To that end, the website is divided into several sections, featuring a scholarly Mina Loy Baedeker including various peer-reviewed chapters, timelines, maps and networks visualizations, biographical sketches of major modernist figures, a game based on Loy’s “Feminist Manifesto,” as well as textual and visual resources. Created with a pedagogical objective in mind, the website relies on undergraduate and graduate students’ contributions. As the editors explain: “This peer-reviewed, digital, multimedia scholarly book is an open educational resource authored by students, staff, and faculty at Davidson College, Duquesne University, and the University of Georgia” (Churchill, Kinnahan, and Rosenbaum, 2020a). The wealth of materials gathered by students and academics alike can, in turn, effectively be used in the classroom, to offer an innovative approach to Loy’s work.

36The ambitious multimedia platform makes use of multiple digital tools such as split screen to facilitate the close readings of several poems: Split screen technology allows you to read an analysis of a Loy poem alongside the poem itself, with shading to indicate the sections of the poem under discussion” (Churchill, Kinnahan, and Rosenbaum, 2020a). The poems transcribed and analyzed here are “Costa Magic,” a section from Loy’s “Italian Pictures” (1914), “To You” (1916), “Ceiling at Dawn” (1930), “Property of Pigeons” dating from the early 1940s, and “Time Bomb” (1946). Even though the website only presents a limited number of Loy’s poems, and therefore cannot replace her collections in print, it does allow for renewed interpretations of her texts. Rosenbaum’s reading of Loy’s surrealist poem “Ceiling at Dawn,” for instance, explains that “a fragment of typed draft states ‘MINA LOY / 9 Rue St Romain Paris 6 / August 26 1930,’ indicating that Loy wrote the poem the year that she painted ‘Surreal Scene’” (Churchill, Kinnahan, and Rosenbaum, 2020a), leading her to adopt a surrealist frame when analyzing the poem. The editorial work here is on the scale of a few poems, and not on that of an entire collection. However, its innovative format relies on thorough comparisons and rigorous editorial choices, as Rosenbaum states “For my text I have used what I have judged to be the final typed draft of the poem; it differs slightly from the version that was published in Lunar Baedeker and Time-Tables.” She also provides links to Loy’s digitized manuscripts and typescripts held at the Beinecke Library.

37The website is also extremely valuable when considering the question of framing, which is at the heart of our analysis. Indeed, the numerous visual and textual resources that make up this “multimedia scholarly book” provide context and new insights into Loy’s work, clearly reframing it from a scholarly and feminist perspective. But it also provides the poems with a visual frame, that of the website and of its encoded pages. Relying on a fluid metaphor, Churchill, Kinnahan, and Rosenbaum invite the readers to “navigate the avant-garde,” but also to navigate their own multimedia book: “click on any chapter title to see a grid of its sections: you can read each section consecutively, or navigate your own path based on your own interests and curiosity” (Churchill, Kinnahan, and Rosenbaum, 2020a) By transforming the numerous echoes that pervade Loy’s poems into actual clickable links, the digital format allows for simultaneity rather than linearity. While the reader of Loy’s 1923 Lunar Baedecker could skip a few pages and jump from poem to poem within the frame of the collection, this digital Baedeker offers an even more fluid conception of the poetry book. As Utard points out, “poetry books in the digital age are not so much disappearing as they are mutating; in fact, they continue to reinvent themselves under the pressures of history and technological evolution, a testament to their exceptional vitality” (2022 np).

38In a spirit of collaboration, the website combines various interactive modes that invite the readers to contribute to the project. In 2018, for example, the editors asked for readers’ contributions in the form of virtual postcards in relation to Loy, that were then uploaded on the website for all to see, under the title “Post(s)cards: En Dehors Garde Flash Mob” (Churchill, Kinnahan, and Rosenbaum, 2020a). Even though it was clearly inspired by Loy’s Dadaist and surrealist work, this collective project intended to go beyond the mere tribute to the poet and showcased marginalized figures from an innovative and feminist perspective. Having demonstrated the unique value of an interactive format, the three editors of Navigating the Avant-Garde are now in the process of publishing a book companion to their online platform, entitled Travels with Mina Loy, highlighting the productive dialogue between different media. Loy’s poetry and recent scholarship on her work thus “navigate” various formats, from print to screen, from book versions to digital experimentations.

39Ranging from manuscripts to poetry books in print and to poems read on a computer screen, the multiple and elusive versions of Loy’s Lunar Baedeker ask the readers to constantly decompose, recompose and assemble her texts. The instability that characterizes her collections allows for multiples versions of her poetry books, and offers her poems various afterlives, even after the book has been closed. Just like the many versions of her manuscripts—and just like Loy herself—her poems are never fixed but always constantly moving and evolving across media. If we take a closer look at her seemingly stable collections, we soon realize that her work in progress and her poetry books are open-ended, appealing to the readers’ imagination and interpretation, leaving them to fill in the gaps that surface in between the oscillating and scintillating poems that make up her fluid collections.

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Bibliographie

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BURKE, Carolyn. “Getting Spliced: Modernism and Sexual Difference.” American Quarterly, vol. 39, no. 1, 1987, p. 98-121.

Burke, Carolyn. Becoming Modern: The Life of Mina Loy. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

Burke, Carolyn. “Loy-alism: Julien Levy’s Kinship with Mina Loy.” Julien Levy: Portrait of an Art Gallery. Eds Ingrid Schaffner and Lisa Jacobs. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998, p. 60-79.

Caws, Mary Ann. Mina Loy: Apology of Genius. London: Reaktion Books, 2022.

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Conover, Roger L. “Introduction.” The Lost Lunar Baedeker. Ed. Roger L. Conover. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1996b, p. xi-xx.

Conover, Roger L. “The Best-Kept Secret in Twentieth-Century Poetry.” Jewish Quarterly, vol. 53, no. 3, 2006, p. 37-38.

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Notes

1 When publishing Loy’s Lunar Baedecker in his Contact Collection of Contemporary Writers, Robert McAlmon misspelled the word Baedeker. The spelling was rectified in the subsequent volumes.

2 A second biography of Loy was published in 2022 by Mary Ann Caws, entitled Mina Loy: Apology of Genius—a trade book meant for a wide audience.

3 The numerous articles, book chapters, and monographs on Loy published over the last few years led Janet Lyon to qualify this renewal of “Loy boom” (400).

4 The success of the exhibition was such that it will be moving to Chicago in 2024, and possibly to London afterwards.

5 The first version of Loy’s “Feminist Manifesto” was included in a letter to her friend Mabel Dodge Luhan and is held in Dodge’s archives at the Beinecke Library. The transformation of the original title “Aphorisms on Futurism” into “Aphorisms on Modernism” in a later version of the manuscript reveals that Loy sought to downplay the Futurist connection and to distance herself from the movement in the second half of the 1910s, just as Marinetti and his friends adopted radical positions on the eve of the First World War.

6 Loy’s complex relationship to the Futurists has been discussed by a number of scholars, including by Laura Scuriatti in Mina Loy’s Critical Modernism, (44-66). See also Paul Peppis (561-579), and Sandeep Parmar’s Reading Mina Loy’s Autobiographies: Myth of the Modern Woman (2014).

7 Loy’s poems belonging to her Florentine period, influenced by the Futurist movement, include “Italian Pictures,” “Sketch of a Man on a Platform,” “Virgin Plus Curtains Minus Dots,” and “Giovanni Franchi,” which clearly alludes to Giovanni Papini.

8 The poems and texts on the Mina Loy Online platform include “Aphorisms on Futurism,” Loy’s “Feminist Manifesto,” “Parturition,” and the 1917 sequence “Songs to Joannes.”

9 The editors acknowledge the influence of the “Manifesto of Modernist Digital Humanities,” co-signed by Alex Christie, Andrew Pilsch, Shawna Ross, and Katie Tanigawa.

10 The website’s logo features part of Clara Tice’s drawing reframing the stylized silhouette of the ballerina to only keep her legs and feet.

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Référence électronique

Diane Drouin, « Visions and Revisions: The Multiple Lives of Mina Loy’s Lunar Baedeker »Transatlantica [En ligne], 1 | 2024, mis en ligne le 01 juin 2024, consulté le 13 juillet 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/transatlantica/22958 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/11x31

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Diane Drouin

Sorbonne Université

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