Today’s Big Loves contributor is Lina Ramona Vitkauskas, author of The Range of Your Amazing Nothing (Ravenna Press, 2010).
Big Loves: Mina Loy
In 1999, Larry Sawyer handed me a book with a cover photo of a handsome woman in profile wearing long, heavy-looking thermometers as earrings. Her eyes were closed—expression seemingly relaying that she was basking in some content memory. On second glance, perhaps she was a soothsayer receiving a message from the future, her earrings the receptors of words, vibrations, and information from the unknown.
This intrigued me immediately. Further, when Sawyer mentioned that some of my early graduate writing reminded him of her work, I was curious.
I’d never heard of Mina Loy, and in the introduction of the book I was given, The Lost Lunar Baedeker, editor Roger L. Conover offers an explanation why: “For a brief period early in the twentieth century, Mina Loy was the Belle of the American Poetry Ball. But by the end of the century, most had forgotten she was there at all.”
There was even a rumor in Paris at one time that she did not exist—that she was a concocted persona. But why? She apparently was associated with some of the most famous and amazing writers and artists of her day: Duchamp, Apollinaire, Picasso, Rouseau, Man Ray, Hemmingway, Joyce, Moore, Pound, Stein, Stevens, Stieglitz, and Williams. Eliot and Miller praised her work.
She’d only published two books in her lifetime and was extremely reclusive toward the end of her life. She never claimed herself a poet. She rarely showed up to events, refused identification with any “groups.” She was everything and nothing, it seemed. Artist (a lamp designer), poet, playwright, Futurist, feminist, actress, Christian Scientist, Bohemian, modernist, post-modernist, Dadaist, Surrealist, etc. etc.
Yes, yes, I thought. All of this appealed to me. A person who affiliated herself with nothing and everything all at once. Isn’t this the way of the universe? Nothing is certain and everything is nothing? In Buddhist Shambala practice, this idea is very apparent in Sadhana of Mahamudra; basically, everything is vividly unreal in its emptiness; what you see is not here, and it is not not here. It’s both and neither. Good and bad, all thoughts vanish into emptiness like the imprint of a bird in the sky.
So in comes Mina Loy’s poetry—truly that “bird imprint” in the sky. Take her poem, “Apology of Genius” and meditate:
We are the sacerdotal clowns
who feed upon the wind and stars
and pulverous pastures of poverty
She turns mystical phrases such as these, very much like the soothsayer I’d imagined her to be upon first encounter. In urgent-innovative words—bullets from an automatic weapon made entirely of Monarchs encased in ice—the poem “Lunar Baedeker” announces,
A Silver Lucifer
cocaine in cornucopia
To some somnambulists
of adolescent thighs
in satirical draperies
Peris in livery
for posthumous parvenues
with the chandelier souls
from Pharaoh’s tombstones
to mercurial doomsdays
in furrowed phosphorous———
And so forth (it melodiously flows on, featuring a “Zodiac carrousel.”)
I, Lina (LIN-ah), and she, Mina (MEE-nah). After reading The Lost Lunar Baedeker I felt an immediate kinship with her and didn’t really want to burrow through all the minutiae as to why. It was best to let her extraordinary juxtapositions inhabit and inspire me, and quite by accident, just as I had with filmmaker Maya Deren. With “muse” Deren, it was her physicality in Meshes of the Afternoon that moved me to create—her ethereal lost, longing eyes in mist of mirrors and her graceful, determined jaunt up never-ending staircases. Like Deren, Mina Loy channels multi-selves in parallel universes and hammers out their messages upon some Steampunk mechanism, a metaphysical Teletype made of past and future cosmic matter. In her world, ornithologists simultaneously exist alongside “fossil virgins in the sky.” The “soul’s advertisements” hang “outside the ecclesiast’s Zoo.”
These are the reasons, as a writer, that I come to Mina Loy again and again. I become entranced by the rhythm of her dreamlike declarations and want to give voice to the next voice in my poetry. She is a timeless inspiration.
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