Academic journal article Yearbook of English Studies

`Arid Clarity': Ezra Pound, Mina Loy, and Jules Laforgue

Academic journal article Yearbook of English Studies

`Arid Clarity': Ezra Pound, Mina Loy, and Jules Laforgue

Article excerpt

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 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 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, tantalizing 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 premiere of Pound's opera, The Testament of Villon, in 1926, and she must have heard other arrangments 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'. (5) Just how illuminating Loy found this it is impossible to know, but it is 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.' (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 `How to Read' (1929) 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 Loy attended and which Williams enjoyed during his visit to Paris during Pound's absence in 1924. …

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