Thursday, May 6, 2010

“Mexican Desert”

Happy Thursday! This month’s featured poet will be one of my personal favorites, & a writer who deserves to be more widely read, Mina Loy. Ms Loy was British by birth (1882), but later lived on the continent, both in France, where she was a regular at Gertrude Stein’s salon, & a good friend of both Stein & Djuna Barnes, & later in Italy, where she was connected with the “Futurist” movement thru her lover, Filippo Marinetti. She moved to New York in 1916, & was connected with Others magazine. Loy’s poetic star shone quite brightly for some time—she was both praised & notorious—her great poem, Love Song to Johannes was attacked as pornographic, tho to my mind it’s one of the great 20th century poetic works. Around the time today’s poem was published in The Dial, Ezra Pound (in one of his patented literary “remarks”) asked Marianne Moore, “is there anyone in America except you, Bill [William Carlos Williams] and Mina Loy who can write anything of interest in verse?”

But Loy’s reputation was eclipsed, much to the puzzlement of some writers. In 1957, Henry Miller described her as “an interplanetary voice whose subtle vibrations only faintly pierce our smug-laden atmosphere”; in 1982, critic Hugh Kenner noted, “her utter absence from all canonical lists is one of modern literary history’s most perplexing data.” Her exclusion from the “who’s who” of modernists was also lamented by writers like William Carlos Williams, Kenneth Rexroth & Louis Zukofsky. Fortunately, Loy’s work has been revived over the past 20 years, & now it’s possible to purchase her poems without much ado.

Hope you enjoy today’s poem—it captures the condensed language that—in my opinion—Loy had perfected in Love Songs to Johannes. That long poem was published in 1917; “Mexican Desert was published in 1921, & probably written some time between 1919 & 1921.

Mexican Desert

The belching ghost-wail of the locomotive
trailing her rattling wooden tail
into the jazz band sunset

The mountains in a row
set pinnacles of ferocious isolation
under the alien hot heaven

Vegetable cripples of drought
thrust up with parching appeal
cracking open the earth
stump-fingered cacti
amid hunch-back palm trees
belabour the cinders of twilight

Mina Loy

In other news: There won't be any post tomorrow, but I should be back for Sepia Saturday. I also may not have access to respond to comments until later in the day on Friday!


  1. Okay. I'm going to my library site right now and ordering myself another delicious helping of Mina Loy. Maybe you should have titled your post Mexican Dessert? :)

  2. Thank you for introducing me to Mina Loy. I had not heard of her before. I am now eager to read her Love Song to Johannes, too. She was clearly a woman ahead of her time, and they are usually

  3. Mina Loy is new to me too, John. And now you've whetted my appetite.

  4. Hi Willow, Nana Jo & Martin: Sorry to be so late in responding--it's been a busy few days!

    Willow: Hope you enjoy your second helping!

    Nana Jo: You can find the complete Love Song to Johannes in "The Lost Lunar Baedecker" pub. by Farrar Strauss Giroux.

    Martin: Glad to be able to introduce you!


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