blacktitle.jpg (12329 bytes)

Mina Loy's Life

Gillian Hanscombe and Virginia L. Smyers
from Writing for Their Lives: The Modernist Women, 1910-1940 (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1987) 112-128

Born Mina Gertrude Lowy in 1882, [Mina Loy] was the daughter of a second-generation Hungarian Jewish father and an English Protestant mother. Her first avocation was art, and she studied painting in Munich for two years after leaving school at 17. On her return to London, she continued art classes, including one taught by Augustus John. . . . Loy moved from Victorian England to impressionist Paris, to futurist Florence, to bohemian Greenwich Village and back to expatriate Paris during her long career. . . . Painter, poet, actress, playwright, feminist, mother, designer, conceptual artist - her range of skills and experience make it difficult to place her too squarely in any one artistic category. . . . During Mina's time spent as an art student in London, she became involved with a fellow student called Stephen Haweis. They moved to Paris to paint and were married there in 1903. Instead of taking her husband's name, Mina changed "Lowy" to "Loy," struggling with the now-familiar feminist dilemma of trying to choose and define what's in a name. Though she continued to paint, she became pregnant and her first child, Oda, was born in May 1904. By 1905 she was a frequent guest at the pre-Toklas Stein salon where - in addition to Leo and Gertrude - she met Apollinaire, Picasso and Rousseau. She became a lifelong friend of Gertrude. Oda died on her first birthday, and the marriage was already faltering by the time [Loy and Haweis] moved to Florence later in the same year. Nevertheless, Mina quickly had two further children, Joella in 1907 and Giles in 1908. . . . During their ten years in Florence, both Mina and Haweis took lovers and developed their separate lives. Mina continued to paint and draw, and began to write, doing her best to marry Art with Life: "My conceptions of life evolved while . . . stirring baby food on spirit lamps-- and my best drawings behind a stove to the accompaniment of a line of children's clothes hanging round it to dry." In 1913 and 1914, though she was coping with motherhood, a soured marriage, lovers, and her own artistic aspirations, Mina found time to notice and take part in the emerging Italian Futurist movement, led by Filippo Marinetti, and to read Stein's The Making of Americans in manuscript. She became, also, at this time, a lifelong convert to Christian Science. By now an intimate of Mabel Dodge . . . Mina met the imported New Yorkers who flocked to Dodge's Villa Curonia: John Reed, Dodge's current lover; Carl Van Vechten; Neith Boyce; Hutchins Hapgood; and others. These contacts would later give Mina entry into the Greenwich Village avant-garde circuit. . . . Mina's first published work appeared in 1914 as the result of her New York contacts, in Alfred Steiglitz's magazine Camera Work and in Carl Van Vechten's Trend. "Aphorisms on Futurism" and her poems aroused considerable interest in New York bohemian circles, and when a group of poets--disaffected with the editorial policy of Harriet Monroe's Poetry magazine--decided to found a new journal, Mina Loy was their rallying point. The new magazine, Others, appeared in 1915, with Mina Loy's "Love Songs" prominently displayed. The poems were much talked about in New York avant-garde circles. The text used intimate material from her own life and were frank to the point of being shocking. Meanwhile Mina continued sending poems and prose pieces to Mabel Dodge and Carl Van Vechten, relying on them to send the work on to appropriate little magazines in New York. . . . In 1916, she [left her] children with a nurse and set sail for New York ... [There] Mina met up with old friends. . . . Alfred Kreymbourg welcomed her into his circle, which included Walter and Louise Arensberg--financial backers of Others--and Man Ray, William Carlos Williams and Marianne Moore. Within a few weeks she was drawn into the Provincetown Players, in December of 1916 playing the lead in Kreymbourg's experimental play Lima Beans. . . . Established in the New York bohemian circle, Mina shone. But then she met Arthur Cravan. Born Fabien Avernarius Lloyd in 1887, Cravan was a nephew of Oscar Wilde's wife Constance Lloyd. Known as the "poet-boxer," he was a "fugitive, forger, and master of disguise who had eluded military authorities and conscription officers for two years as he roamed through Central and Western Europe." . . . He'd lived for a while in Paris, becoming intimate with the avant-garde painters and starting a journal called Maintenant, a polemical organ consisting solely of his own writing. . . . By the time he arrived in New York in 1917, he had connections with the Arensberg salon, and it was there that he and Mina Loy met. Mina was waiting for her divorce from Haweis to be finalized. . . .[She and Cravan] had only six months together, since he had to flee the country in order to evade the military draft. By September 1917 he was in Canada; by December in Mexico, from where he wrote to Mina, pleading with her to come to him. . . . Mina left New York immediately. Her divorce was finalized, and she married Cravan in Mexico City. Her children remained in Florence with their nurse while she and Cravan moved around Mexico, he earning money from boxing matches. When she became pregnant, she sailed on a hospital ship to Buenos Aires where she intended to wait for Cravan. . . . But Cravan never appeared; nor was he ever seen again. Mina finally sailed alone to England, where she spent the winter with her mother, and where [Cravan's and her] daughter Fabienne was born on 5 April 1919. In the summer of that year, Mina returned to Florence to her two older children, now aged 14 and 12. She tried to pick up her old life in her villa there, but was obsessed by Cravan. His body was never found, and this preyed on her. Desperate, she left Florence in March 1920 to look for him. Leaving all three children behind, she sailed for New York. Renewing her contacts, she became involved again with the Provincetown Players and with the modern poets. . . .[In 1923 Loy returned to Paris with Fabienne, and opened a lampshade business with the financial backing of Peggy Guggenheim.] Mina designed the shades herself, and soon expanded into glass novelties, paper cut-outs and painted flower arrangements. She had a studio in which to work, and Peggy Guggenheim arranged exhibitions and sales on her frequent trips to New York. . . . [Loy's first book Lunar Baedecker was published by Robert McAlmon's Contact Press in 1923.] This was Mina's only published book until Lunar Baedeker & Time Tables in 1958, although long sections of her autobiographical poem "Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose" appeared in The Little Review in 1923 and in McAlmon's Contact Collection of Contemporary Writers in 1925. During those years, Mina renewed her friendship with Djuna Barnes and . . . with Gertrude Stein. . . .In 1930 Mina Gave up the lampshade business and started working for her son-in-law [Julien Levy] as the Paris agent for his New York gallery. She published hardly anything during the 1930s, although she did begin to paint again. In 1936 she left Paris for New York, where she lived first with her daughter Fabienne in Lower Manhattan and then by herself in the Bowery. . . . Her chief interest came to be the Bowery bums, about whom she wrote poems and began to assemble "constructions": montages of street scenes made out of "found objects" from the streets around her. . . .At the age of 71 Mina finally left New York forever and moved out to Colorado, where both of her daughters lived. . . . [In] 1951 a New York gallery exhibited her Bowery "constructions." Mina didn't attend the opening, although a number of her old friends were there, including Djuna, Peggy Guggenheim and Kay Boyle. She remained in Colorado, working on her last creations, her "experiments in junk." Mina had never let go of Cravan Her last poem ["Letters of the Unliving"] was about him. . . . She died in Aspen, Colorado, in 1966, at the age of 84.

From Gillian Hanscombe and Virginia L. Smyers, Writing for Their Lives: The Modernist Women, 1910-1940 (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1987) 112-128

Virginia M. Kouidis

Loy, Mina (27 Dec. 1882-25 Sept. 1966), poet and artist, was born Mina Gertrude Lowy in London, England, the daughter of Sigmund Lowy, a tailor, and Julia Bryan. Loy received little formal education but at age seventeen was sent to art school in Munich. In 1901-1902 she returned to England, where she studied with the English painter Augustus John and began to exhibit her painting. It was also during this time that she met her first husband, art student Stephen Haweis (Hugh Oscar William Haweis). In 1903 Loy moved to Paris to study painting, married Haweis, and changed her name to Loy, a change, she remembered, that she "adopted in a spirit of mockery," in response to her husband's old and distinguished family name, which was pronounced "Hoyes" (Burke, pp. 66, 97). Loy and Haweis had three children; the first daughter died in infancy, the son in his teens.

In Paris Loy became acquainted with leading modernists and was elected a member of the Salon d'Autumne for 1906. She and Haweis then moved to Florence, Italy, and joined the city's Anglo-American community. Loy's friendships and romances with the Italian Futurists became fodder for her satires of machismo, but the Futurists helped to shape her revolutionary poetic. The tone and rhetoric of their manifestos encouraged her rejection of poetic convention, while Marinetti's "parole in liberta" encouraged her experiments with typography and free verse.

In 1915 Loy began to consider a trip to the United States to obtain a divorce and earn a living as a designer. Her arrival in New York City in December 1916 was preceded by the appearance of her poems in the American little magazines Trend, Rogue, and Others. She introduced herself in Camera Work (Jan. 1914) with "Aphorisms on Futurism." Declaring that "TODAY is the crisis in consciousness," this manifesto of psychic liberation anticipated Loy's designation as the "Modern Woman" by the New York Evening Sun (Feb. 1917). Her divorce from Haweis was final in 1917.

Among the artistic expatriates from World War I gathered in New York, Loy met proto-Dadaist Arthur Cravan (Fabian Avenarius Lloyd). Loy and Cravan married in Mexico City in January 1918; in November he disappeared, having ventured out to sea in a sailing boat from Salina Cruz, Mexico, and was never seen again. After the birth of their daughter, Loy searched for Cravan in Europe and the United States and then became a notable figure in Paris in the 1920s.

Loy drew on her family life and marriages to express her modernism, which originated in her rebellion against late-Victorian gender definitions, whereby oppressed mothers enforced patriarchal repression on defenseless daughters. In her satire on gender and genre expectations, the poetic allegory Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose (1923-1925), she is Ova, the mongrel daughter of Exodus, son of a Hungarian Jewish immigrant, and Alice, his disillusioned English "Rose"; Haweis is Esau Penfold, the "Infant Aesthete"; and Cravan is Colossus, the pugilistic enfant terrible.

Loy had already made innovations in poetic form, as exemplified in "Parturition" (Trend, Nov. 1914), a startling verbal and rhythmic rendering of birth and rebirth that had a shocking effect at the time it was published. On the page, it typographically depicts consciousness moving on waves of pain between animality and metaphysical analysis. Loy's poetry is distinguished by a verbal virtuosity that Ezra Pound labeled "logopoeia" and defined as "a dance of the intelligence among words and ideas and modification of ideas and characters." Its movement between abstraction and vivid image suggests the French philosopher Henri Bergson's theory of consciousness as the flux between intellection and intuition, a theory in which Loy had immersed herself.

Loy's most notorious poem is Love Songs or Songs to Joannes (Others, Apr. 1917), a thirty-four poem collage of failed love that satirizes the male love-song tradition. The first four poems created a small scandal when they launched Others, edited by Alfred Kreymborg, in July 1915. Love Songs follows Christina Rossetti's Monna Innominata in letting the beloved woman speak. Loy's "I", however, objectifies the male lover with an un-Rossettian irreverence. The popular love poetry of Sara Teasdale and Edna St. Vincent Millay pales to sentimental cliché before the Love Songs's eroticism and deflation of romantic love:

Pig Cupid  his rosy snout
Rooting erotic garbage

Loy expressed her preoccupation with self-realization through the image of "I-eye." The eyes in the poems of the 1910s belong to dissatisfied women: "A thousand women's eyes / Riveted to the unrealizable." In the 1920s they are the unflinching visionary eyes of admired artists: Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Constantin Brancusi, and Wyndham Lewis. In a tightening of her free verse line, Loy structures these portraits as concise, visually brilliant stanzas that Yvor Winters called "images that have frozen into epigrams." A memorable example comes from "Lunar Baedeker," a satire of failed artistic vision. Many of these art poems appeared in the Dial and were collected with earlier poems in Lunar Baedecker [sic] (1923). The title alludes to the Baedeker travel guides used throughout Europe; Loy was mapping a journey to sites of the imagination beyond the poetic loci honored by tradition.

In 1936 Loy joined her daughters, Joella and Fabi, in New York, having become haunted by the specter of German expansionism and, being of Jewish birth, fearful of the Nazis' lethal anti-Semitism. Care-worn, she felt alien in the American metropolis. One of her few friendships of this period was with the artist Joseph Cornell, creator of exquisite, enigmatic box constructions, some of which Loy helped to inspire. Increasingly reclusive, Loy moved in 1949 to the Bowery, lower Manhattan's skid row. Her few published poems of this period pursue the theme of unrealized vision. Her subjects are often society's rejects, like her Bowery neighbors in the poem "Hot Cross Bum" (New Directions in Prose and Poetry 12 [1950]). They are "misfortune's monsters," betrayed by alcohol into a false "Elysium." Her artistic interest then centered on collages created from objects found in the city's streets. These were exhibited as "Constructions" at New York's Bodley Gallery in 1959.

A forgotten participant in the American poetry revolution of 1912 to 1925, Loy was known among contemporaries for her startling free verse analysis of sexuality, her beauty, and her dramatic life. The rediscovery of her radical modernism, signaled by Jonathan Williams's 1958 collection of her poetry, Lunar Baedeker & Time-Tables, has continued in feminist challenges to the high modernist canon.

Neglect of Loy's poetry has lent qualified support to revisionist claims that leading male modernists like T. S. Eliot, Pound, and Joyce defined modernism so as to marginalize writers whose poetics and politics threatened their own largely conservative stance. However, Eliot and Pound praised Loy's work. In the Prologue to Kora in Hell (1920), William Carlos Williams singles out Loy and Marianne Moore as the South and North poles of the poetry landscape. High modernist champions of technical innovation and intellectual rigor could not accuse Loy of formal conservatism or sentimentality. Literary historians may have marginalized Loy by making her a modernist icon, woman-as-Dada, while relegating her writing to avant-garde obscurity; but equally relevant is Loy's lessened attention to her poetry in later life. When she died in Aspen, Colorado, where she had lived with her daughters since 1953, she was known mostly through the memoirs of her contemporaries. Renewed interest in her poetry belongs to the recovery of the neglected, multiple aspects of early modernism. In The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933) Stein, whom Loy praised as "Curie / of the laboratory / of vocabulary," offers a definitive tribute to Loy's artistic vision. Recalling Loy's first husband's plea that she punctuate the long sentences without commas in The Making of Americans (1925), Stein notes that "Mina Loy . . . was able to understand without the commas. She has always been able to understand."


Loy's papers are in Yale University's Beinecke Library. Published works not mentioned above include Auto-Facial-Constructions (1919), Psycho-Democracy (1920) and a 1930s novel, Insel (1991), about the German surrealist painter Rochard Oelze. Roger L. Conover edited a Jargon Press edition of the poetry, The Last Lunar Baedeker (1982), and an edition published by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, The Last Lunar Baedeker: Poems of Mina Loy (1966); Conover has also edited The Autobiography of Mina Loy: "Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose" and "Colossus''. The first half of Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose originally appeared in the Little Review 9 (Spring 1923): 10-18 and 9 (Autumn-Winter 1923-1924): 41-51; the second half, in Contact Collection of Contemporary Writers (1925). Early critical commendations of her poetry include Ezra Pound, " 'Others,' " the Little Review 4 (Mar. 1918): 56-58, and Yvor Winters, "Mina Loy," Dial 80 (June 1926): 496-99. Kenneth Rexroth reclaimed Loy for the modernist canon in "Les Lauriers Sont Coupés: Mina Loy," Circle 1, no. 4 (1944): 69-72. Another significant effort at recovery was Kenneth Fields, "The Poetry of Mina Loy," Southern Review, 3 (July 1967): 597-607. The first book on Loy's life and poetry was Virginia M. Kouidis, Mina Loy: American Modernist Poet (1980). Another biography is by Carolyn Burke, Becoming Modern: The Life of Mina Loy (1996). See also Maeera Schreiber and Keith Tuma, Mina Loy: Woman and Poet (1998). An obituary is in the Aspen Times, 29 Sept. 1966.

Source:; American National Biography Online Feb. 2000. Access Date: Wed Mar 21 11:32:08 2001 Copyright (c) 2000 American Council of Learned Societies. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.

Return to Mina Loy