Thursday, May 27, 2010

"On Third Avenue"

This month’s featured poet is Mina Loy—a poet of incandescent talent whose works are not as well known as they should be. Ms Loy’s poetic star was in ascendency in the ‘teens & 1920s, but declined precipitously thereafter. Her works were out of print for many years.

Fortunately, that is no longer true. An excellent volume of her poems is available: The Lost Lunar Baedecker, edited by Roger L. Conover, & I’d give it the very highest recommendation. To my mind, Loy is the one “Modernist” who speaks most urgently to us, however many years removed from that movement's heyday.

“On Third Avenue” dates from 1942, & may have been intended as part of a book-length poetic sequence called “The Compensations of Poverty”—this is Conover’s conjecture. Such a book was never finally assembled, however. At the time, Loy was living in the Bowery in New York, & was an isolated figure whose life was intertwined with the down-&-out street people of that district. Her glamorous life among the literati was a memory, & she kept in contact with only a few of the artistic figures from her earlier life; Marcel Duchamp & Djuna Barnes were two artists with whom Loy maintained contact.

This is a harrowing & beautiful poem—hope you, too, find it moving.

On Third Avenue


“You should have disappeared years ago”—

so disappear
on Third Avenue
to share the heedless incognito

of shuffling shadow-bodies
animate with frustration

whose silence’ only potence is
preceding the eroded bronze contours
of their other aromas

through the monstrous air
of this red-lit thoroughfare.

Here and there
set afire
a feature
on their hueless overcast
of down-cast countenances.

For their ornateness
Time, the contortive tailor,
on and off,
clowned with sweat-sculptured cloth
to press
upon those irreparable dummies
an eerie undress
of mummies
half unwound.


Such are the compensations of poverty
to see—

Like an electric fungus
sprung from its own effulgence
of intercircled jewellery
reflected on the pavement

like a reliquary sedan-chair,
out of a legend, dumped there,

before a ten-cent Cinema,

a sugar-coated box-office
enjail a Goddess
aglitter, in her runt of a tower,
with ritual claustrophobia.

Such are the compensations of poverty
to see—

Transient in the dust,
the brilliancy
of a trolley
loaded with luminous busts;

lovely in anonymity
they vanish
with the mirage
of their passage.

Mina Loy

portrait of Loy is by Man Ray


  1. Her writing is so deliciously modern. She was gorgeous and looked so much Georgia O'Keefe, don't you think?

    Hey, pop over and take a look at this post of a handsome little vintage John Hays:

  2. Hi Willow: In addition to being a great writer, Loy was a very attractive woman who worked as a model. Yes, a bit like O'Keefe in this pic! I looked at that site. What a hoot!

  3. Now I'm going to have to get that volume!

  4. Hi Martin: Glad this piqued your interest!


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