Mina Loy

(1882 - 1966)

One of the foremost members of the first generation of modernist poets, Mina Loy was born in London, England, in 1882. She was the oldest of three daughters of Sigmund Lowy, a Hungarian Jewish tailor, and the English-bred Evangelical Christian Julia Bryan. Loy rebelled against the middle-class values her parents espoused, seeking deeper knowledge of the arts despite their belief that women should not be highly educated. She studied at St. John’s Wood School in London, then Munich’s Society of Female Artists’ School, before returning to London in 1901. There, she began to exhibit her work in student shows and met her husband, Stephen Haweis. Despite her initial dislike of him, they began a sexual relationship, and when she became pregnant, they married.

The couple relocated to Paris in 1903, where Loy attended the Académie Colarossi and bore her first child, Oda. There, Loy gained recognition for her artwork through her appearances in the Salon d'Automne and the Salon des Beaux-Art. She and Haweis were drawn into Paris’ modernist community, befriending Gertrude Stein, Guillaume Apollinaire, Auguste Rodin, and others. Oda died of meningitis a few days after her first birthday, and Loy’s existing tendencies to neurasthenia worsened, precipitating a temporary split between Loy and Haweis. During this time, Loy had an affair with her doctor, who impregnated her with her second child, Joella. She reconciled with Haweis and the two moved to Florence in 1906. Joella and a son, Giles, were born, and Loy turned to Christian Science—which would become a lifelong belief—as she sought treatment for Joella’s health issues. In the early 1910s, Loy mingled with Italian futurists, which spurred her first ventures into poetry. She also wrote her long-unpublished Feminist Manifesto.

The subsequent decade of writing brought Loy into the coziest circles of the new avant-garde. She moved to New York in 1916 and became an established part of its bohemian life, joining in with both literary and Dadaist figures such as William Carlos Williams, Man Ray, Marianne Moore, and Djuna Barnes. Her work was published in now-legendary little magazines including the Dial, the Little Review, and Others, and she participated in the flourishing theatrical experimentation of the era. She divorced Haweis, but tragedy struck her once more when she fell for poet and boxer Arthur Cravan. The two married, lived in Mexico, and conceived a daughter, Fabi, but Cravan disappeared at sea soon after. Three years later, Haweis took their son Giles to Bermuda without Loy’s permission; Giles passed away in 1926, without ever seeing his mother again.

Loy continued to travel between Florence and New York, then on to Vienna, Germany, and finally Paris, attempting to balance her children in Europe with her career and creative circles. During this period of rich output, she wrote the autobiographical thirty-four-poem Love Songs, the long poem Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose, the pamphlet Psycho-Democracy, an experimental play, and many individual poems. However, she did not publish a full collection until 1923’s Lunar Baedecker, which fell near the end of her career as a poet. In Paris, she began a lampshade business to support herself. She then moved to New York with her children, and later on to Aspen, Colorado. Beginning in the 1940s, her work was rediscovered and championed by a new generation of poets: in 1944, she was deemed by Kenneth Rexroth to be one of the “Five Young Poets” with Williams, Moore, Eliot, and Wallace Stevens. Lunar Baedeker & Time Tables, her second and final poetry collection, was published in 1958. She passed away in 1966, with The Last Lunar Baedeker, The Lost Lunar Baedeker, and a novel, Insel, all finding posthumous publication.

Loy is elusive to describe in full. Her life was characterized by seemingly continual momentum between cities, romantic partners, art practices, and deep bereavements. Her poetry incorporates aspects of many schools, such as futurist and cubist techniques, an abstract style that can be linked to both imagism and surrealism, and a proto-feminist direct framing of female sexual life. She has been labeled as part of or claimed by nearly a dozen artistic movements. However, despite the difficulty of defining Loy’s work, her scant decade or so of peak poetic output has earned her a place in the upper echelon of foundational twentieth-century American poets.


More Mina Loy

Text: Poems by Loy at the Academy of American Poets

Text: Jessica Burstein on Loy's "Lunar Baedeker" for the Poetry Foundation

Audio: Poems and interview segments from Loy in 1965 at PennSound