Thursday, September 19, 2013

Mina Loy's "Modern Poetry" and Its Relevance Today

An excerpt from an essay by Mina Loy: Poetry is prose bewitched, a music made of visual thoughts, the sound of an idea.
From Loy's "Modern Poetry" Image by Dave Bonta

Mina Loy's opinions about poetry are just as important today, if not more so, than in her own Modern Era.

One of the lesser-known poets of the Modern Era, Loy took seriously the tenets of Lowell and Pound's Imagism as stated in the "Imagist Manifesto," as well as Pound's challenge to make poetry new. She followed his example and joined the Modern literary conversation with an essay of her own called "Modern Poetry." What makes this essay relevant today is that what she praises as well-written poetry for the Modern Era remains true in our own time.

The Modern Era

The beginning of Modern poetry can be defined by the emergence of American avant-garde poets just before the start of World War I in 1914. Among the most famous of the Modern poets, and this list is certainly limited, are Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, T.S. Eliot, Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, E.E. Cummings, and Hart Crane. These poets exhibit the sentiments of Pound, who challenged the poets of his time to “make it new.” Not only did they meet this challenge, but their influence has grown over the past poetic century as they have influenced new generations of poets.  How these poets made poetry "new" was defined not only by the most well known of the Era's poets, it was also explained by Mina Loy in her essay, "Modern Poetry."

Mina Loy's "Modern Poetry"

In Mina Loy's “Modern Poetry,” an essay first published in the non-literary magazine Charm in April of 1925 (Conover 217), Loy begins, “Poetry is prose bewitched, a music made of visual thoughts, the sound of an idea” (157). What follows that first sentence is a nine-point evaluation of Modern Era poetry. The majority of her essay focuses on using a natural rhythm for personal topics, and in the popular poetry of today, this acclaim for free verse, rhythm, and musicality is just as popular, if not more so than in 1925. As for the music of poetry, one only has to look at the popularity of rhythmic slam poetry, "music made of visual thoughts," to hear its spontaneity and see its effect on the popularity of poetry.

"Music Made of Visual Thoughts"

Several of Loy’s points in "Modern Poetry" praise the music of the then-new free-verse form. Almost with an air of knowing what was to come in the future of poetry, as over the years it has competed more and more with popular music as entertainment, she begins by saying music is more easily accessible to people than poetry because while music is “easy to get in touch with,” poetry requires “voluntary attention” (Conover 157). She continues to explain that poetry must be read as “pictured song” (157). Almost prophetically predicting the advent of slam or jam poetry, she explains that tempo and verse are used properly when found spontaneously, just as structured meter was at one time new and original, spontaneous thought. She extols Ezra Pound as the master at creating musical qualities in verse, and gives much credit to E.E. Cummings. Of Cummings she states his success lies in his “rich compassion” for “common things,” and his rhythms created by the combination of a free-verse form and “fresh rhymes.” Loy then gives examples of perfect poems, naming work by Hilda Doolittle, Marianne Moore, Lawrence Vail, and William Carlos Williams. Her last point again praises the “sublime” Williams. Loy cites his ability to create the new rhythm of poetry by his joining of bare fact with personal nature (161).

The poetry of the Modern Era has had a profound effect on the poetry we read and hear today - both as the written word and in popular song. Modern poets, famous and lesser-known alike, contributed to this evolution of rhythm, meter, image, and "the everyday" as acceptable poetic subjects. Most notably of the lesser-known poets is Mina Loy, whose opinions about poetry as explained in her essay, "Modern Poetry," are just as valid today as they were in 1925.

Want to read more about Mina Loy?  Try

Diagramming Mina Loy's "Letters of the Unliving" as a Method of Close Reading

Works Cited

  • Conover, R L. (ed.) (1996). The Lost Lunar Baedeker; Poems of Mina Loy. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Works Consulted

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

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