Mary Borkowski on The Reluctant Writer
Borkowski reviews a new collection of stories and essays by the often forgotten modernist Mina Loy @ The New Inquiry.
In a short essay on Gertrude Stein, Mina Loy writes: “You never hear anyone say: ‘I have read such and such a book by Gertrude Stein.’ People say: ‘I have read some Gertrude Stein.’ ” This some bespeaks a lack, a desire to know more, securing her on a tentative, pencilled list of 10 people who are dead that you’d invite to a dinner party.
The same could be said of Loy: To read a poem or story of hers, to glance a brief essay, to swallow a play — it’s really only to help yourself to a taste of a bountiful, unreachable feast. The dialogue she invites with her writing seems to largely be enjoyed by herself, but, with the publication by Dalkey Archive Press of the Stories and Essays of Mina Loy, we can now read some Mina Loy.
Many writers are palpably anxious that they will not be read, or that their work will be misconstrued posthumously, or that they will be lauded for something other than what they felt truly deserved recognition. No such anxiety is present in this volume. Being acknowledged as a writer was never at the forefront of Loy’s mind, and yet she couldn’t help being one, as few can be described.
Loy is known, if at all, for her poetry, though among other things she was an inventor, artist, lamp maker, mother, wife, and nurse, as well as a Christian Scientist. Born on December 27 in London in 1882, Loy spent her life in Paris, Florence, New York, Mexico — the cosmopolitan list of locales frequented by the literati of the 1920s and ‘30s. Her most well-known works — her “Feminist Manifesto” and the Lunar Baedeker series — aren’t misrepresentations of her complicated mind so much as they are slim offerings from a much larger body of work. Publishing and writing were separate matters for Loy, and she clearly did not give much time to the former. She found life preoccupying enough to not act as her own promoter.
It is no surprise then that Loy participated in the thick of modernism’s greatest bouts of activity. She was a close friend of Gertrude and Leo Stein and their salon milieu in Paris; she befriended and then bedded Filippo Marinetti, the guru of Futurism; she was close with Tristan Tzara, a central figure in Dadaism; she was championed by no less than Ezra Pound and James Joyce for her poetic prowess, later becoming friends with William Carlos Williams and Djuna Barnes. Certainly, she was admired by the proponents of these disparate -isms, but she never identified solely with one group. Instead, as her work attests, Loy drew inspiration from many movements without ever entirely committing to any of them. And yet, just as literary and artistic movements often coalesce only retrospectively, so does Loy’s work, most of which was published after her death.