Pig Cupid, a small pamphlet of poems in response to Mina Loy’s ‘Songs to Johannes’, was where I first became aware of this neglected modernist poet. That was in 2000; later, when Lawrence Rainey’s Modernism anthology came out (2005), I read her for the first time, and was amazed by ‘Parturition’ in particular, for the way it connected intense physical experience with philosophical abstractions. Rainey’s selection led me to what remains the most readily obtainable selection her poetry, and undoubtedly the best place to start, The Lost Lunar Baedeker, ed. Roger Conover (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1996; later published by Carcanet). But tantalisingly, what Conover wasn’t able to include in that selection, given that he wished to include annotations and an introduction, was Loy’s autobiographical poem ‘Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose’. He had included it in an earlier collection of her work, The Last Lunar Baedeker (Jargon Society, 1982), a beautifully made and hefty book that now re-sells for equally hefty prices.
You can get a good feel for Loy’s poetry without reading ‘Anglo-Mongrels’, but nevertheless, it attempts something quite different: an autobiography. And it’s an autobiography that explores where personhood comes from, so rather than beginning with Loy’s childhood, it begins with her parents: her Hungarian-born Jewish father, Sigmund Felix Lowy, and her English mother, Julia Bryan. And her presentation of them isn’t straightforward: Sigmund becomes ‘Exodus’, and Julia is initially named ‘English Rose’, later to become ‘Ada’. In consequence, we see them as types rather than individuals, she ‘simperiing in her / ideological pink’, and he something of Jewish stereotype, ‘loaded with Mosaic / passions that amass / like money.’ Mina Loy herself is born twenty pages into the poem (it’s about sixty pages long in total) and is referred to as ‘Ova’; her later lover Arthur Cravan is presented at the moment of his birth as ‘the male fruit / of a Celtic couple’, and is named ‘Colossus’. The narrative doesn’t carry the main characters far beyond their early childhoods and formative impressions. While ‘Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose’ is by no means perfect as autobiographical poetry, it’s a singular and striking experiment that deserves to be more widely read.