"Arid clarity": Ezra Pound, Mina Loy, and Jules Laforgue

by Peter Nicholls


To review the connections between Mina Loy and Ezra Pound should be a relatively straightforward matter. There is, after all, no shortage of biographical material on Pound, and we now have Carolyn Burke’s Becoming Modern, as well as the essays brought together in Mina Loy: Woman and Poet. 1 Yet, while Pound’s reading of Loy and his support for her work have received a fair amount of comment, the available biographical studies of the two poets tell us surprisingly little about their meetings and intellectual exchanges. Of course, Loy hardly seemed a significant player when Norman and Stock wrote their early books on Pound, but it is slightly surprising to find no mention of her in Humphrey Carpenter’s more recent work (and Carpenter certainly has a developed interest in Pound’s relations with women, particularly in the early stages of the poet’s career). 2 What is even more striking is the absence of any hard information about their meetings in Paris in the early twenties in Carolyn Burke’s Becoming Modern, especially as she reproduces two photographs of them together (Burke is equally unforthcoming about Loy’s encounters with Wyndham Lewis in Paris and London—tantalising indeed 3). One can actually glean very little: we know, for example, from Virgil Thomson’s autobiography (but not from Burke) that Loy attended the Parisian première of Pound’s opera, The Testament of Villon, in 1926, and she must have heard other arrangements by him because she notes in the recently recovered essay of 1925, “Modern Poetry,” that “his music was played in Paris,” 4 but of the conversations they must have had only one intriguing trace seems to remain: in a 1943 interview, Loy recalled that “Pound was like a child, and an old professor at the same time. His craze then was endocrine glands. He would talk about it a great deal—very learned discussion. Glands…were the latest thing at the time.” Just how illuminating Loy found this it’s impossible to know, but it’s likely that Pound’s often hectoring manner did not appeal. Loy went on: “He was a sensitive man who didn’t think other people were sensitive. One of his friends said he had brought from America the faults of America, and none of the virtues.” 5 (Williams Carlos Williams is the likely source of that last remark.)

There is surprisingly little to go on, then, apart from Pound’s isolated comments on Loy which are, with the exception of the 1918 Little Review piece on the Others anthology, usually brief, but insistent that Loy be considered part of the American vanguard. The 1918 account of Loy and Moore is well-known, for it was there that Pound first produced his account of “logopoeia,” “a dance of the intelligence among words and ideas and modification of ideas and characters” (in the 1929 “How to Read” the formulation would be slightly modified to “the dance of the intellect,” now the most familiar version). 6 Pound famously aligned the “arid clarity” he discerned in Loy and Moore with a specifically American modernism. Several months later, in a review section for the magazine Future, he wrote of the Others anthology again, this time quoting passages from Loy’s “Effectual Marriage” (misremembering—perhaps deliberately?—its title as “Ineffectual Marriage”) and observing that “Laforgue’s influence or some kindred tendency is present in the whimsicalities of Marianne Moore, and of Mina Loy.” 7 Beyond this, we have sporadic comments in letters to the editor of the Little Review, Margaret Anderson, which tell us little more than that Pound wanted to retain Loy as a regular contributor, and several remarks in letters to Williams and Moore which argue more forcefully for her prominence in the American literary scene (“is there anyone in America,” he writes to Moore, “except you, Bill and Mina Loy who can write anything of interest in verse?” 8). Pound, of course, spent parts of 1924 in Italy and settled permanently in Rapallo the following year, thus removing himself from the round of dinners and parties which Loy attended and which Williams enjoyed during his visit to Paris during Pound’s absence in 1924. 9 With his attention shifting increasingly to political and economic matters, it is thus surprising to find Pound suddenly returning to Loy’s work as late as 1933. The occasion was an open letter from Marinetti to Pound, published in Il Mare, the Rapallo paper to which Pound was a frequent contributor during the early thirties. While addressing Pound in a friendly spirit, Marinetti drew a distinction between what he called masculine/heroic and feminine/pessimistic types of writing, noting that some of the writers Pound had been publishing in Il Mare unfortunately represented the second tendency. The criticism was enough to prompt Pound to write a long piece in which he paid tribute to the women writers of his generation. Noting first that “the most valuable part of Anglo-American literature in my half-century has been nursed, nourished, and supported in reviews edited by WOMEN,” he went on to affirm the importance of three writers: Mary Butts, Kay Boyle, and Mina Loy. His comment on Loy is as follows: “MINA LOY holds her position in Anglo-American poetry of my decade, perhaps the most spontaneous, perhaps the most original, a bit absent-minded, who sometimes succeeded and sometimes didn’t. It would take an entire article for an adequate discussion.” 10 Whether or not Pound was trying to needle Marinetti by praising the futurist’s ex-lover, his comment at this remove in time suggests that Loy’s work had made a deep and lasting impression on him. Indeed, he had recently returned to the poem he called “Ineffectual Marriage,” including it in his 1932 anthology Profile, a work he described as “a collection of poems which have stuck in my memory and which may possibly define their epoch.” 11

These fragmentary comments raise the interesting possibility that, the paternalistic tone of the Little Review piece notwithstanding, Pound’s discovery of Loy was actually in some way pivotal to the development of his own work. Most critics, of course, have tended to read the influence the other way, drawing comparisons between “Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose”(1923) and the earlier Hugh Selwyn Mauberley(1920), 12 but Carolyn Burke for one has suggested that the example of “logopoeia” in Loy’s work allowed him to develop “a critical theory that could justify and explain” his recently published Homage to Sextus Propertius. 13 As far as  I know, though, only Reno Odlin in a brief aside in his review of The Last Lunar Baedeker has gone so far as to propose that the style of Mauberley was somehow directly affected by Pound’s reading of Loy: “it must now be plain to everyone where he got the cadences which come off so beautifully toward the end of Mauberley,” says Odlin. 14 The observation is not developed, but it has confirmed my growing sense of a kind of reciprocal influence at work across these texts of Pound and Loy. Certainly, Pound had been following Others magazine before his Little Review piece on Loy and Moore (he was an active contributor) and he would have read Songs to Joannes there. 15 And while it remains difficult to specify the extent to which Loy and the poets of Others impelled him in a new direction, the publication of “Moeurs contemporaines” in 1918 made it clear that Pound was trying to supplement the often coy refinements of his imagist verse with a lighter, more ironic vers de société. 16 But the anecdotal observations of “Moeurs contemporaines” rarely approached the complex and impacted verbal forms of Loy’s Songs, and it was not until Hugh Selwyn Mauberley that Pound was really able to approximate the “logopoeic” handling of abstract vocabulary that already made Loy’s satirical style so distinctive. Part of the section from “Effectual Marriage” that Pound reproduced in his review for Future seems, in fact, to ghost the cadence and verbal play of Mauberley:

But she was more than that
Being an incipience                a correlative
An instigation of the reaction of man
From the palpable to the transcendent
Mollescent irritant of his fantasy
Gina has her use    Being useful
Contentedly conscious
She flowered in Empyrean
From which no well-mated woman ever returns.

Loy’s use of abstract words like “incipience,” “correlative” and the soon-to-be-Poundian “instigation” mimes the shift from “palpable” to “transcendent” which for Miovanni/Papini is the ultimate test of Gina/Mina’s usefulness. The “fantasy” is Papini’s, though it is ironically undercut as an expression of male privilege by the fact that this is Mina’s vocabulary not his. He may like her softness and pliability, but the pseudo-scientific word “mollescent” reserves to itself the force of ultimately superior judgement, its analytic clarity providing the necessary “irritant” to this lamely conventional male fantasy. Pound has been criticised for his view that Loy’s work displays “no emotion whatever” and that it demonstrates an “arid clarity,” but in one sense that might seem a valid response to a language which gains its power from its sheer externality or from what Lewis would term the “external method” of satire. 17 Compare Pound’s epitaph for Mauberley:

A consciousness disjunct,
Being but this overblotted
Of intermittences 18

The cadence and phrasing definitely recall Loy’s “Being an incipience…,” and Pound’s latinate vocabulary (“disjunct,” “intermittences”) similarly catches the lazy fantasising of Mauberley even as it coldly holds the persona at arm’s length. If Loy’s “Effectual Marriage” was particularly important to Pound (and it was the one poem of hers that he cited repeatedly) it was partly because, as he put it in the Little Review piece, “It has none of the stupidity beloved of the ‘lyric’ enthusiast and the writer and reader who take refuge in scenery description of nature, because they are unable to cope with the human.” 19 The idea of “cop[ing] with the human” already expresses a Lewisian contempt for the purely “natural.” “Art,” says Lewis memorably, “consists…in a mechanising of the natural,” 20 and the cadence and idiom that Pound develops from Loy offer a way of subordinating psychology to aesthetic form, with this vocabulary, ostensibly so inappropriate to lyric, conducting its own implicit critique of romantic fantasy.

For it is precisely that fantasy that apparently destroys the “artist’s urge” in the second part of Pound’s poem and accounts for the hedonistic “drifting” memorialised in Mauberley’s epitaph. Hence the coldly “aesthetic” presentation of the soprano in the final poem, “Medallion,” a part of the sequence which has caused much disagreement, with critics still tending to read it as an evocation of artistic impoverishment. 21 Yet there is a crucial intertext for this poem, a review by Pound of a performance given by the soprano Raymonde Collignon on whom the singer in “Medallion” is generally thought to be modelled. Part of the review is as follows:

No one has a more keen perception than she has of the difference between art and life; of the necessary scale and proportion required in the presentation of a thing which is not the photograph and wax-cast, but a re-creation in different and proportional medium. As long as this diseuse was on stage she was non-human; she was, if you like, a china image…22

This argument against mimesis affirms a fundamental principle of Pound’s aesthetics, announced as early as the 1911/12 series of articles titled “I Gather the Limbs of Osiris,”where he argues the point in strikingly similar terms:

There are few fallacies more common than the opinion that poetry should mimic the daily speech. Works of art attract by a resembling unlikeness. Colloquial poetry is to the real art as the barber’s wax dummy is to sculpture. In every art I can think of we are damned and clogged by the mimetic… 23

So whether we like it or not (and most critics have not), Pound does seem to have intended the sequence to end on a high note, with the confusing immediacy of the passion which sets Mauberley drifting, temporarily overcome by making the experience of desire one which is thoroughly mediated by previous cultural contexts—a move which interestingly inverts Loy’s concluding snub to Love as “the preeminent littérateur” in Songs to Joannes. In “Medallion,” the woman becomes an object of desire only in so far as she is cast in a “different medium” and thereby rendered “non-human” and thoroughly aesthetic. In repudiating any confusion of what Pound elsewhere calls the “caressable” with artistic values, 24 he here deviates quite deliberately from the usual idiom of passionate celebration—it is, for example, the, not her, “sleek head” which emerges from the frock, and in the typescript Pound had originally used the very un-erotic “pate” instead of “head,” the eventual deletion showing, perhaps, that he was unwilling to go as far as Loy in demystifying the romantic body. 25

If there is, then, some kind of buried dialogue between “Effectual Marriage” and Mauberley, the relation between Mauberley and Anglo-Mongrels is more obviously suggestive. Thematic connections between the two poems have often been noted, especially the relevance of the Brennbaum section and the similarity between Esau and Mauberley. 26 But beyond these parallels or allusions, there are also numerous half-echoes of Poundian phrases—“The isolate consciousness/projected from back of time and space”(131), and “devoid/of invitation to vitality”(156), and again “it passes beyond the ken/of men”(128), and so on. 27 There are even passages where Loy seems deliberately to invoke Mauberley (note her Poundian use of rhyme in the following):

His passionate-anticipation
of warming in his arms
his rose   to a maturer coloration
which was all of aspiration
the grating upon civilization
of his sensitive organism
had left him
splinters upon an adamsite
of nerves like stalactites 28

The rhymes seem calculatedly to echo Pound’s “Incapable of the least utterance or composition,/Emendation, conservation of the ‘better tradition,’” while Loy’s overly delicate reference to the “sensitive organism” cannot help but recall the “new found orchid” that Mauberley so gauchely attempts to “designate.” Elsewhere in “Anglo-Mongrels,” Loy also seems to allude to Mauberley’s drifting isolation:

A wave
“out of tide”     with the surrounding
ocean    he breaks
insensitized   non-participance     upon himself 29

a passage which draws us back to Mauberley’s solipsistic fascination with “the imaginary/Audition of the phantasmal sea-surge.” Such lines do seem to stage an oblique encounter with Pound’s poem, and the sense of an acknowledged relation between the two is strengthened when we hear that Pound apparently admired Anglo-Mongrels as an example of the “free verse novel,” a description which cannot but bring to mind his own account of Mauberley as “an attempt to condense the James novel.” 30

The partial and momentary intersection of these works by two essentially very different poets may tell us something useful about divergent strands within this period of Anglo-American modernism. For Pound’s review of Loy’s work occurred at a particularly rich moment in the evolution of his poetics, a moment (1918) in which he was also exploring “the prose tradition in verse” through the writings of Flaubert, James, Lewis and Joyce, and coordinating these with an intensive reading of Laforgue initially inspired by Eliot’s enthusiasm for the French poet. 31 It is Laforgue, of course, about whose irony Pound had written an important essay the year before, who provides the context in which he reads Loy and Moore. In that essay of 1917, “Irony, Laforgue, and Some Satire,” Pound had praised Laforgue for his command of what he called a “good verbalism” (“Bad verbalism,” he says, “is rhetoric, or the use of cliché unconsciously, or a mere playing with phrases” 32). Pound emphasises that this is not “the popular language of any country but an international tongue common to the excessively cultivated,” and it is that internationalism which Pound specifies in the idioms of Loy and Moore as a “distinctly national product,” the paradox affirming the exorbitantly polyglot nature of the American language. All these concerns centering on satire and “verbalism” are focussed in what Pound sees as Laforgue’s modernisation of poetic style, and I want to look at this in more detail since it provides the key to Pound's interest in Loy and also explains why, after Mauberley, his own work would move in a very different direction from hers. Certainly, the “modern” qualities of Laforgue’s poetry are clear enough: there is his exploration of free verse and his fascination with types of “social” subject matter; there is the daringly hybrid and neologistic vocabulary, and the often risqué management of familiar romantic themes (Laforgue is said to be the first French poet to use the word “clitoris” in verse). Above all, there is, as Pound notes in his 1917 essay, the “delicate irony” and the intellectual cast of the writing: “The ironist,” observes Pound, “is one who suggests that the reader should think.”(281) Yet with its appeal to the “excessively cultivated,” Laforgue’s work is also very much of its time, the time of decadence. Pound notes in passing that Beardsley’s Under the Hill was “until recently the only successful attempt to produce ‘anything like Laforgue’ in our tongue,”(283) but he doesn’t pursue the question far, moving instead to a discussion of satire. The more we look at Pound’s account, though, the more we may be struck by its partiality. It is, above all, Laforgue as “purge and critic” that Pound wants to stress, and accordingly we don’t hear very much at all about the poet’s darker side, about his “Buddhistic sense of fatality,” 33 his preoccupation with solitude and with moments of psychic fragility, his Schopenhaurian view of the will, and his quite un-Poundian pursuit of self-mortification. Laforgue’s “nonchalance of manner,” as Pound terms it, actually represents only one aspect of his work, certainly masking the mordant and macabre features of his irony to which Eliot was predictably drawn.

To this we can add that the decadent and the modern are, in fact, more closely interwoven than Pound would have us believe, 34 though Laforgue, he does admit, is “exquisite,” another indication that the “hardness” for which he is to be admired is not quite yet the “hardness” of modernist style. Indeed, the dazzling coinages which feature so prominently in Laforgue’s work are closely allied to the decadent cult of the “rare” word, which, drawing on Mallarmé, sought to create the effect of a language partially dead and not in any practical sense for use (we can find more obviously decadent forms of it in, say, the work of  Stefan George and Walter Pater). In fact, the “verbalism” for which Pound praised Laforgue might suggest something not so very different from the allegedly “false” autonomy of the decadent style which always threatens to substitute a purely artificial language for a social one (the OED defines “verbalism” as ‘the predominance of what is merely verbal over reality or real significance”). What is of particular interest about this question is that it points up a major ambivalence within Anglo-American modernism, an ambivalence which turns on the relation of the modern to the decadent, and which is focused on exactly this issue of linguistic self-sufficiency and verbal “materiality.” This strand of modernism derives much of its power from such ambivalence: on the one hand there is the turn to a “writerly” language (in Roland Barthes’s sense of the term), while on the other there is an insistence on the need for modes of objectification, for the “welding of word and thing” of which Pound spoke so forcefully. 35

If it’s not always easy, then, to see precisely what Pound took from Laforgue it’s partly because he seems to have seized on the poet’s irony as a sort of mediating term between these two ways of writing. Irony offers the necessary escape from sentimentality and romantic expressivism, providing a strategic means by which to affirm the self as strong and authoritative—“modern” as opposed to “decadent” in Pound’s scheme of things. Of course Pound himself would never actually be much of an ironist, lacking both the delicate touch of Laforguian humour and the poet’s related fascination with the minutiae of social behaviour. Instead, Pound came to associate the satirical aspect of Laforgue’s verse with the key terms of his own modernism—“image,” “form,” “energy,” “objectivity”—all terms whose technical application also implies the agonistic relation the avant-garde would assume toward its subject matter and audience. “Form” must be seen to be won through what Pound, in a discussion of Lewis’s painting, calls the “combat of arrangement”(GB, 121), a combat only marginally less dramatic than his description elsewhere of the artist as “the phallus or spermatozoide charging, head-on, the female chaos.” The connection exceeds simple analogy, reminding us that this privileging of intellect above emotion, along with its related activities of “seeing” and “knowing,” leads not to forms of rigorous self-scrutiny but rather to an often aggressive objectification of the other. To which we can add that the “inorganic” style of decadent writing is not so much jettisoned as reworked so as to produce an ideal of psychic authority and coherence where the fin-de-siècle writers had discerned the instability and, sometimes, the very extinction of the self.

What is especially interesting about Pound’s construction of a Laforguian modernism and his way of using this as a lens through which to read Loy’s work is precisely its programmatic partiality. Yet while the values of surface and “hardness” so crucial to his avant-garde polemics of 1918 would certainly shape the ostensible technical protocols of The Cantos, Pound would actually never lose his parallel attraction to the “softer” Swinburnian poetics which were to characterise many of the visionary sequences of the poem, early and late. Indeed, Laforgue makes an appearance in the very last “full” Canto Pound ever wrote, Canto 116, where we read:

And I have learned more from Jules
                                                (Jules Laforgue) since then
deeps in him
                          and Linnaeus 36

This late revisiting of Laforgue suggests another dimension of the French poet’s work, reminding us again that a strand of decadent style runs through The Cantos, with the specially heightened lyric mode drawing attention to verbal and phonic values in a way which the ideologically clearer parts of the poem would dismiss as fetishistic. These richly ornamental passages exploit linguistic density and sound-patterning to produce effects quite removed from Laforguian logopoeia as Pound had defined it in 1918. On the other hand, though, these highly stylised, Pre-Raphaelite tableaux, with their frozen gestures and inorganic landscapes, are reminiscent of some of Laforgue’s prose writings—and notably of the celebrated prose passage about the Berlin aquarium which, significantly, Pound had cut from his 1918 translation of Salomé but to which the Laforguian “deeps” at the very end of The Cantos undoubtedly refer:

As far as the eye can see, meadows enameled with white sea anemones, fat ripe onions, bulbs with violet membranes, bits of tripe straying here and there and seeming to make a new life for itself, stumps with antennae winking at the neighbouring coral, a thousand aimless warts; a whole fetal, claustral, vibrating flora, trembling with the eternal dream of one day being able in whispers to congratulate itself on this state of things… 37

Eva Hesse and Donald Davie have both observed that the “deeps” which Laforgue discovered in the Berlin aquarium offered Pound “the motif of nature in reverse, an immutable anti-world” which figured the transformation wrought by art upon the real .38 Yet Laforgue’s version of Nirvana is, I think, more ambiguous than this reading suggests. For in these “deeps,” he tells us, there is

no day, no night….no winter, no spring, no summer, no autumn, no other chopping and changing of weather. Loving, dreaming without moving, in the cool of imperturbable blindness. O satisfied world, you dwell in a blind and silent blessedness, while we dry up with our superterrestrial pangs of hunger. Why aren’t the antennae of our own senses bounded by Blindness, Opacity and Silence? Why must they seek out what is beyond their proper domain? Why can’t we curl up, encrusted in our little corners, to sleep off the drunken deaths of our own little Egos?(96)

The narcotic life of these aquarium “deeps” is as much a product of Laforgue’s desire for a state of will-less “Nirvana,” with its fixity, calm and silence, as it is of an intense feeling for language, whose items it enumerates with an almost sensual pleasure. 39 Phrases like “fetal, claustral, vibrating flora” exemplify less the “dance of the intelligence,” as Pound had originally defined logopoeia, than an almost fetishistic delight in language for its own sake, in the rich “opacity” of words, to use Laforgue’s own term. In becoming “opaque” in this way, language provides the poet with a luxurious freedom, a freedom from the obsessive self-consciousness which characterised Laforgue's genius but which he also felt as a constant affliction. So “the ideal things,” he observed in another account of the Berlin aquarium, “are these sponges, these star-fish, these plasmas, in the opaque, cool, daydreaming water.”40

At first sight, such mindless drifting might see anathema to Pound, who had, of course, satirised it as a weakness of the aesthete in Mauberley, but by the time he reappraised Laforgue a lot of water had flowed under the bridge. The experience of profound mental and physical debility which Pound underwent during his years at St Elizabeth’s arguably made him more responsive to several new things in Laforgue’s writing. In the closed regions of the aquarium’s dreamlike, subaquatic world, words no longer had to cleave to things but could be relished for themselves; and furthermore, Pound might have been led to notice that Laforguian word-play wasn’t just a matter of active social satire—it was also intensely reflexive and internalised, a matter of intricate cross-reference and echo, stylistic qualities which would come very much to the fore in late Cantos such as 110. 41

I have sketched these two Laforguian moments in Pound’s thinking in a very abbreviated way, but I hope it is clear that neither of them fully defines Loy’s particular brand of logopoeia. While her “verbalism” seems closer in kind to the materiality of the second type, with an emphasis on internal play rather than on Poundian “objectification,” it also departs from the quasi-symbolist reflexivity we might discern in some of the late Cantos.  We can best understand this difference by looking more closely at Loy’s recently recovered essay on “Modern Poetry,” 42 where, as some critics have noted, the American language is characterised as a “composite language,” a “welter of unclassifiable speech,”(159) “English enriched and variegated with the grammatical structure and voice-inflection of many races.”(158) 43 In view of this “novel alloy” (the word-play seems deliberate), “It was inevitable,” says Loy, “that the renaissance of poetry should proceed out of America, where latterly a thousand languages have been born.”(158) What has not so far been noted about this essay is that it seems deliberately to allude to the terms of Pound’s 1918 review of her work. Not only does Loy celebrate at the outset Pound’s “magnificent Cantos” and his role as “the masterly impressario of modern poets”(158), but she also follows him in elaborating the paradox of a national language as a polyglot one and in arguing that this is the true idiom of modernity. The Laforguian idea of verbal coinage is prominent, too, for, as she puts it, “Every moment [the true American] ingeniously coins new words for old ideas.”(159) Even more intriguing, though, is the following passage: “The variety and felicity of these structural movements in modern verse has more than vindicated the rebellion against tradition. It will be found that one can recognize each of the modern poets’ work by the gait of their mentality.”(157) It is hard not to feel that this last phrase—“the gait of their mentality”—is a calculated reformulation of Pound’s “dance of the intelligence.” If it is, it’s a telling one, with Loy substituting for the stylish symbolist dance the more deliberately mundane figure of walking (a “gait” is also something a horse has). It is not necessary to retrace here the historical progress of the partially disembodied dancer, from Mallarmé through Yeats, to Stevens, to signal the emphatic embodiment conveyed in this one word when read against its Poundian precursor. This “mentality” takes pleasure in its pedestrian encounter with words whose ungainliness and imperfection incite new rhythms and cadences which root them in a human world with all its acknowledged grubbiness and rough edges. We are already far from the “non-human” soprano figured in Pound’s “Medallion,” and we can also note that where Pound’s “logopoeic” words are rooted in a traditional if abstract lexicon, Loy’s move between, on the one hand, the recondite and archaic (“elusion, “aniline,” etc.), and deliberate if recognisable coinages, like “changeant” and “eclosion,” “inideate” and “stoppled.” On a number of occasions, a word can also simply be “wrong”—“insuccess,” for example. This, then, is the “foreign language” she told Julien Levy she was trying to make, 44 and “foreign” not just in its repudiation of the normative and familiar, but also because it is the alienating language of satire, a medium which Lewis was currently reconstituting as one in which the intellect derives its power from a head-on confrontation with the grotesqueries of the “wild body.” This is something very different from the epigrammatic wit of Mauberley and its final celebration of the “non-human,” reminding us that Loy’s “Pig Cupid” also finds his home in the messy materiality of the garbage heap. In that sense her vision is finally closer to Lewis’s world of big babies and overheated German frauleins than it is to Pound’s celebration of “Luini in porcelain.” Satire, in this sense, renews its connection to the tradition of the grotesque as Bakhtin describes it in his study of Rabelais:

…the artistic logic of the grotesque image ignores the closed, smooth, and impenetrable surface of the body and retains only its excrescences (sprouts, buds) and orifices, only that which leads beyond the body’s limited space or into the body’s depths….If we consider the grotesque image in its extreme aspect, it never presents an individual body; the image consists of orifices and convexities that present another, newly conceived body. It is a point of transition in a life eternally renewed, the inexhaustible vessel of death and conception. 45

The contemporary scandal of Loy’s work was due, I think, as much to its outrageous invocation of this tradition as it was to her outspoken feminism and her public role as a “new woman” (the two were in fact, of course, closely linked). As a result, Loy’s logopoeia was a notably hybrid one, turning Pound’s elegant symbolist conception upside down and showing the “logos” of “logopoeia” to be embedded in the very body it was supposed to rise above. The ‘verbalism’ of phrases like the “sub-umbilical mystery/of his husbandry” and the “impenetrable pink curtain” 46 here made partial obscurity a means at once of evading censorship and of being almost gratuitously specific, with linguistic density being simultaneously the measure of the unseen and, obliquely, the embodiment of what convention seeks to hide. There was a humour here to which Pound, with his rather Pre-Raphaelite notion of sexual passion, was not particularly well-attuned and which can be missed even by contemporary commentators like Carolyn Burke who seem keen to emphasise depressive tendencies at work in Loy’s writing. As the connection with Pound shows, however, it was precisely Loy’s achievement to push “logopoeia” to a boisterous extreme, where even the ironist’s pretensions to aloof superiority would ultimately fall victim to the “humid carnage” of the bodily life. 47


1 Carolyn Burke, Becoming Modern: the Life of Mina Loy (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: U of California P, 1996); Mina Loy Woman and Poet, ed. Maeera Schreiber and Keith Tuma (Orono, ME: National Poetry Foundation, 1998), hereafter cited as MLWP. [back to text]

2 Noel Stock, The Life of Ezra Pound (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970); Charles Norman, Ezra Pound : A Biography (1960; rev. ed. London: Macdonald, 1969); Humphrey Carpenter, A Serious Character: the Life of Ezra Pound (London and Boston: Faber and Faber, 1988). [back to text]

3 Loy wrote one poem in praise of Lewis—“‘The Starry Sky’ of Wyndham Lewis,” in Loy, The Lost Lunar Baedeker, ed. Roger Conover (Manchester: Carcanet, 1997) 91-2, and Burke quotes an unpublished letter from Loy to Mabel Dodge Luhan in which she describes Lewis as “a marvellous draftsman of the Picasso school—in method—but himself alone in vision.”(140) [back to text]

4 Virgil Thomson, Virgil Thomson (New York: A.A. Knopf, 1966) 83; Mina Loy, ‘Modern Poetry’, in The Lost Lunar Baedeker, ed. Roger Conover (Manchester: Carcanet, 1997) 158 (hereafter referred to as LLB2). See also R. Murray Schafer, Ezra Pound and Music: The Complete Criticism (London: Faber & Faber, 1978) 312: Loy attended the première along with Joyce, Hemingway, Eliot, Djuna Barnes, and Cocteau. [back to text]

5 George H. Tichenor, “This Man is a Traitor: A Story of the Life and Works of Ezra Pound, Who Scorned the People,” PM 4. 50 (New York, 15 August 1943), quoted Charles Norman, Ezra Pound: A Biography (London: Macdonald, 1969) 273. See also Marisa Januzzi, “Mongrel Rose,” in MLWP, 416-17, n.22. [back to text]

6 Ezra Pound, “A List of Books,” Little Review IV. 11 (March 1918): 54-8. Part of the section on Moore and Loy is reprinted in William Cookson, ed. Ezra Pound: Selected Prose 1909-1965 (London: Faber and Faber, 1973) 394-5. Pound, “How to Read” (1929), rpt. in T. S.Eliot, ed., Literary Essays of Ezra Pound (London: Faber and Faber, 1968) 25. [back to text]

7 Ezra Pound, “Books Current, Reviewed by Ezra Pound: The New Poetry,” Future II (June 1918): 188. The section quoted by Pound and omitting lines from Loy’s original is reprinted in Ellen Keck Stauder, “Beyond the Synopsis of Vision: the Conception of Art in Ezra Pound and Mina Loy,” Paideuma 24.2-3 (Fall-Winter 1995): 224. [back to text]

8 For the comments to Anderson, see Pound/The Little Review: the Letters of Ezra Pound to Margaret Anderson, ed. Thomas L. Scott and Melvin J.Friedman (London: Faber and Faber, 1988) 207, 268, 297. Pound’s opinion of Loy sometimes seems uncertain here: “We must have some American contributions.  ???? Mina Loy  ?? (On re-reading I find parts of her better than Marianne Moore, though perhaps she sinks further and worser [sic] in others).” For the letter to Moore, see D. D. Paige, ed., The Selected Letters of Ezra Pound 1907-1941 (London: Faber and Faber, 1950), 168. See also ibid. 135, 158. [back to text]

9 See Norman, Ezra Pound: A Biography 266-67. [back to text]

10 Translated as “Crawfish?” by Tim Redman, in Helix 13/14 (1983): 117-20. For the original and for Marinetti’s letter see Il Mare Supplemento Letterario 1932-1933, ed. Roberto Bagnasco (Commune di Rapallo, 1999) 321-24, 316 [back to text]

11 Pound, ed., Profile: An Anthology Collected in MCMXXXI (Milan: John Scheiwiller, 1932), quoted in Marisa Januzzi, “Bibliography,” in MLWP, 524. [back to text]

12 See, for example, Jim Powell, “Basil Bunting and Mina Loy,” Chicago Review 37.1 (1990): 13; Elisabeth A. Frost, “Mina Loy’s ‘Mongrel’ Poetics,” MLWP 164 n., 172. [back to text]

13 Burke, “Getting Spliced: Modernism and Sexual Difference,” American Quarterly 39 (1987): 99. [back to text]

14 Reno Odlin, “Her Eclipse Endur’d,” Antigonish Review 59 (1984): 58-9. [back to text]

15 The first four sections of Songs appeared as “Love Songs” in Others 1.1 (July 1915) and the full sequence occupied the entire issue of Others 3.6 (April 1917). [back to text]

16 “Moeurs contemporaines,” in Pound, Collected Shorter Poems (London: Faber and Faber, 1952) 196-201. [back to text]

17 See Wyndham Lewis, Men Without Art ed. Seamus Cooney (1934; Santa Rosa, CA: Black Sparrow Press, 1987) 98-9. After a critique of the “internal method,” which Lewis associates with “the subterranean stream of the ‘dark’ Unconscious,” he concludes that “Satire is cold, and that is good! It is easier to achieve those polished and resistant surfaces of a great externalist art in Satire.” (Lewis’s emphasis) [back to text]

18 Pound, Collected Shorter Poems 221. [back to text]

19 Pound, “A List of Books,” Selected Prose 394. [back to text]

20Lewis, Men Without Art 129. [back to text]

21 See, for example, Ronald Bush, “It Draws One to Consider Time Wasted: Hugh Selwyn Mauberley,” American Literary History 2.2 (Summer 1990): 56-78. I have offered a critique of this view in “‘A Consciousness Disjunct’: Sex and the Writer in Ezra Pound’s Hugh Selwyn Mauberley,” Journal of American Studies 28.1 (April 1994): 61-76, and draw on that essay in the following account. [back to text]

22 Pound, “Music” (1920), rpt. in Ezra Pound and Music 225 (emphases in original). [back to text]

23 Pound, “I Gather the Limbs of Osiris, XI” (1912), rpt. in Selected Prose, 41-2 (emphases added). Note especially the prefiguring here of the contrast later drawn in Mauberley between the “mould in plaster” and “the sculpture of rhyme.” [back to text]

24 See Pound, Gaudier-Brzeska: A Memoir (1916; Hessle: Marvell, 1960), 97. [back to text]

25 See the typescript reproduced in Jo Brantley Berryman, Circe’s Craft: Ezra Pound ’s Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research, 1983), 238. [back to text]

26 See above, note 12. [back to text]

27 Cf., respectively, in Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, “a consciousness disjunct,” “Invitation, mere invitation to perceptivity,” “He passed from men’s memory.” [back to text]

28 Loy, The Last Lunar Baedeker, ed. Roger Conover (Highlands, N.C.: Jargon Society, 1982), 127 (hereafter cited as LLB1). The later volume titled The Lost Lunar Baedeker (LLB2) does not include “Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose.” [back to text]

29 Ibid. 117. [back to text]

30 J. J. Wilhelm, Ezra Pound in London and Paris 1908-1925 (University Park and London: Penn State UP, 1990) 326; Pound, Selected Letters 180. [back to text]

31 A helpful account of Pound’s dealings with Laforgue is Jane Hoogestraat, “‘Akin to Nothing but Language’: Pound, Laforgue, and Logopoeia,” ELH 55.1 (Spring 1988): 259-85. In the following I draw also upon my own “‘Deeps in him’: Ezra Pound and the persistent attraction of Laforgue,” Revue Francaise d’Etudes Americaines 84 (March 2000): 9-20. [back to text]

32 Pound, “Irony, Laforgue, and Some Satire” (1917), in Literary Essays, ed. T. S. Eliot (London: Faber and Faber, 1960) 283. Further references will be given in the text. [back to text]

33 Warren Ramsey, Jules Laforgue: the Ironic Inheritance (New York: OUP, 1953) 66. In a 1957 letter Pound does ask “Anyone yet noted the hindoo depth in LaForgue [sic],” but he does not pursue the matter (see Ezra Pound, Letters to John Theobald, ed., Donald Pearce and Herbert Schneidau (Redding Ridge, CT: Black Swan Books, 1984) 27. [back to text]

34 See my Modernisms: A Literary Guide (London: Macmillan, 1995). [back to text]

35 Pound, Selected Letters 158. [back to text]

36 Pound, The Cantos (London: Faber and Faber, 1986) 810. [back to text]

37 Jules Laforgue, Moral Tales, trans. William Jay Smith (London: Pan, 1985) 95. Further references will be given in the text. For Pound’s translation, see Pavannes and Divagations (London: Peter Owen, 1960) 189-200. [back to text]

38 Eva Hesse, ed., New Approaches to Ezra Pound (London: Faber and Faber, 1969) 29. [back to text]

39 See also Scott Hamilton, Ezra Pound and the Symbolist Inheritance (Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1992) for a discussion of the late “reversal of Pound’s earlier poetics of assertion and…his new willingness to entertain previously threatening and unexplored states of mind.”(184) Hamilton notes that “Pound’s regard for Laforgue’s Buddhist passivity [is] gradually modified”(183) and that a certain reflexivity in some of the late Cantos reconnects Pound to the Symbolist (Mallarméan) tradition. [back to text]

40 Quoted in Francois Ruchon, Jules Laforgue: sa vie, son oeuvre (Geneva: Editions Albert Ciana, 1924) 137 (my translation). [back to text]

41   For a more detailed discussion of this development, see my “‘To Unscrew the Inscrutable’: Myth as Fiction and Belief in Ezra Pound’s Cantos,” in Michael Bell and Peter Poellner, eds., Myth and the Making of Modernity: The Problem of Grounding in Early Twentieth-Century Literature (Amsterdam: Rodopi,1998) 139-52. [back to text]

42 First published in the fashion magazine Charm in 1925, the essay has been reprinted in LLB2 157-61. References will be given in the text. [back to text]

43 See Marjorie Perloff, “English as a ‘second’ Language: Mina Loy’s Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose,” MLWP 146. [back to text]

44 Burke, Becoming Modern 361: “‘I was trying to make a foreign language,’ she wrote, ‘because English had already been used.’” [back to text]

45 Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World, trans. Helen Iswolsky (Indiana UP, 1984) 317-18. [back to text]

46 LLB1 126, 128. [back to text]

47 LLB2 57. [back to text]



BIO: Peter Nicholls is the author of Ezra Pound: Politics, Economics, and Writing and Modernisms: A Literary Guide. He recently co-edited Rusin and Modernism and is currently completing a book on post-war American poetry for Polity Press.



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