Her Tongue Had Been Loosened in the Melting Pot

Mina Loy, in her essay “Modern Poetry,” proposes that “it was inevitable that the renaissance of poetry should proceed out of America.” Loy believes that there is a new poetry afoot, one that responds directly to modern contemporary life and its vagaries. Unlike Baudelaire, who also considers art to be partly a product of its times but who also considers that art to be great because it also consists of eternal beauty, Loy finds the strength of the new poetry in the poet’s individual response to and relationship with “the modern world of varieties in which he finds himself” (158). America then, constituted by multiple cultures and ethnicities, is the best source of “the modern world of varieties.” America’s English is constituted similarly. However, Loy doesn’t say that America’s English is an amalgam of a thousand languages. Rather, it is in America that where “a thousand languages have been born.” America’s English is not unified; rather it constantly changes and develops, and expression in American English can be particular, informed as it is by ethnicity, heritage, location and character. Hence, the poet’s own particular experience of the modern world finds its expression best in American English, which provides him with her own particular language.

Parasitism, & Prostitution – or Negation

Loy’s essay “Feminist Manifesto,” makes assertions that deconstruct binaries, that explore the physical implications of heteronormative romantic love, and that privilege biological femaleness (i.e. the ability and right to bear children) over constructed femininity that subsists on dependence of the male. Her poem “Song to Joannes” attempts to do the same things.

In her manifesto, Loy argues that the feminist revolution cannot take place until the binary construction of lover (“mistress”) or mother is demolished. While I take issue with the alternative that Loy proposes – i.e. we must be both! we will be both brilliantly! (and not considering the option of being neither, or choosing to be only one instead of being assigned only one) – she is attacking the notion that the woman’s experience must be a experience of one or the other, or one after the other. In “Songs to Joannes,” Loy continues this argument not just through the deconstruction of Lover-or-Mother, but through the deconstruction of all binaries. In Song II we see the conflation of the body with the mechanical, or the “skin-sack” with the “clock-work mechanism.” The skin-sack contains desiring impulses,but those collective impulses can be perceived as working like a machine. She also conflates the holy with the secular, comparing her lover’s hair, which she braided, to “A God’s door-mat / On the threshold of your mind.” This work of deconstructing binaries is important in a poem that deconstructs the romantic notion of heteronormative love, a constructed love that is dependent on constructed binaries, and a love through which the masculine half of the binary is left untouched, but the feminine side of the binary is left battered. It’s important to note that Loy isn’t saying that women are not more fragile than men; rather she is pointing out that the construction of hetero-romantic love is one that is made to damage women.

Loy’s manifesto also claims that all women should be able to have babies regardless of their position in the world. In other words, the biology of women shouldn’t be demonized or considered subservient to men or to the relationships women form with men. While this claim is also a bit problematic (Loy then goes on to assert that intellectual women should have just as many children as poor, uneducated women to make certain things are evened out), the basic claim that a woman’s biology cannot be separated from her experience of the world helps to de-isolate the role of “mother” and brings child-bearing to the same level of importance as romantic relationship without being dependent on a romantic relationship. Loy states that children should be the result of the mother’s own development and not necessarily of a possibly irksome & outworn continuance of an alliance” (155). Loy addresses childbirth directly in Songs III and IV. In Song III, the child “a butterfly / with the daily news / printed in blood on its wings,” is the product of the speaker’s and her lover’s imagined union. The child, then, is less a child and more of a cultural and political production. In Song IV, Loy presents an “unimaginable family” of “Bird-like abortions.” The creatures are not conventionally born; rather they are abominations, creatures that might have been discarded had they been conceived from a conventional union. One of the creatures gives birth, and the speaker claims that she would live with them to learn from them what they know if it weren’t for their “abominable shadows.” It isn’t the creatures who are abominable, it is their shadows, their appearance in a conventional society that would condemn them.

Finally, Loy’s manifesto decries the idea of women defining themselves in the context of men which makes them dependent on men. Instead, women should “seek within yourselves to find out what you are” (154). The woman exists apart from man. The woman exists in her own body. This is manifested in the “Songs to Joannes” through Loy’s focus on the physical, the tangential existence of women as opposed to their construction as “other than men.” References to the body permeate the poem; the reader is unable to escape the reality of the existence of the woman as an individual entitity. The first Song introduces the physical reality of the poem with the lines “Among wild oats sown in mucous-membrane // I would an eye in a Bengal light.” The poem continues with body images: “broken flesh,” “promiscuous lips,” “pair of feet.” Loy continues throughout the poem that woman is not a constructed “other than man”; woman is separate, physical, individual and real.

The New Rhythm

In her essay “Modern Poetry,” Loy also distinguishes modern poetry as having a “new rhythm.” The poetry of William Carlos Williams best represents this new rhythm because, “Williams will make a poem of a bare fact – just to show you something he noticed. The doctor wishes you to know just how uncompromisingly itself that fact is. But the poet would like you to realize all that it means to him, and he throws that bare fact onto paper in such a way that it becomes a part of Williams’ own nature as well as the thing itself” (161). How then, is this style of writing, rhythmic? Loy is speaking not just of the rhythm of the poem or the rhythm of writing, but the rhythm of the poet’s understanding and making sense of the modern, diverse world. The key to this rhythm is that the fact that Williams writes then “becomes a part of [his] own nature as well as the thing itself.” By writing the bare fact, William changes his own subjectivity (the bare fact becomes part of the way he makes sense of the world). It also changes the thing, the object that the fact represents. It changes the fact itself. His understanding and expression of the fact becomes part of the fact, part of its objectivity if we count connotation as part of its objectivity, and we do. The associations that the subject has with the object may be part of the subject, but it is perceived as part of the object. If Williams writes about a greeny flower, his new associations may be part of his own mental process and the mental processes of the readers of that poem, but both poet and readers will posit the associations onto the greeny flower. The associations only exist in relation to the greeny flower. They can’t be conjured on their own.

This idea can, perhaps, be better understood by considering Julia Kirsteva’s “connoted mimetic object” from The Semiotic and the Symbolic. For Kristeva, the connoted mimetic object is dependent on the subject of enunciation (i.e. the subject who speaks and who therefore breaches the thetic) and his ability to attach pre-verbal associative sense (i.e. semiotic chora) to the object. The connoted mimetic object cannot exist as it is without its relationship with the subject and the subject’s ability to privilege chora instead of repress it.

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