|Diagramming Poetry as a Method for Close Reading|
One of Loy's poems that quite literally makes me catch my breath is "Letters of the Unliving" as published in The Lost Lunar Baedeker: Poems.
History and SyntaxLoy's history, thus the history of the poem is this: Loy met Arthur Cravan in 1917 and married him in 1918. Opposed to serving in WWI, Cravan took Loy to Mexico to escape the military draft. Once in Mexico, and after experiencing some trouble with both military authorities and the professional boxing crowd, "They bought a small, leaky sailing boat with the idea of patching it up and trading it in for a more seaworthy vessel" so that Cravan might sail to Buenos Aires. "In early November, only days before the Armistice was signed, Cravan set sail in the repaired craft for the nearby coastal village of Puerto Angel. The weather was fine and the boat apparently in good shape. Loy waited for days on the beach, gazing out to sea, but Cravan never returned" (Ford, 2007, para. 23).
However, no matter the interest in the tragic, romantic loss of love and self depicted this poem, the cathartic fear of loss we feel when we read the history, or perhaps because of the terrible beauty of the language of this poem, I have been having great difficulty sharing this poem with my students. Although the idea, the elegy, makes the poem universal, the syntax makes the poem difficult to access.
Diagramming and Accessibility
Image by Stephen Haweis, via Wikimedia Commons
The Gift of ExcessOf this poem and Loy, William Keckler beautifully and aptly states, "She creates a dignified superstructure in this dual elegy which allows for what might elsewhere be excessive; that is Loy's particular gift" (para. 3). Once my students and I stripped excess from the poem, then put all of it back into place, we could all better understand this "dignified superstructure," this "dual elegy." We could appreciate the language for what it gives us without leaving anything out. Once we saw the poem for what it is we forgave what others might call "excess," and we embraced it, this looking back at grief from the future as a person forever changed by loss.
- Ford, M. (1997). Spawn of Fantasies. New Republic, 216(21), 38-41.
- Keckler, W. (2007). Mina Loy & Arthur Cravan: "Letters of the Unliving." [Web log, Joe Brainard's Pyjamas]. Retrieved June 4, 2014 from http://joebrainardspyjamas.blogspot.com/2007/09/mina-loy-arthur-cravan-letters-of.html
Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author for permission to republish.