Mina Loy
from Lunar Baedeker



Apology of Genius v



Ostracized as we are with God—
         The watchers of the civilized wastes
         reverse their signals on our track

         Lepers of the moon
         all magically diseased
         we come among you
         of our luminous sores

         how perturbing lights
         our spirit
         on the passion of Man
         until you turn on us your smooth fools' faces v
         like buttocks bared in aboriginal mockeries

         We are the sacerdotal clowns
         who feed upon the wind and stars
         and pulverous pastures of poverty

         Our wills are formed
         by curious disciplines
         beyond your laws

         You may give birth to us
         or marry us
         the chances of your flesh
         are not our destiny—

         The cuirass of the soul
         still shines—
         And we are unaware
         if you confuse
         such brief
         corrosion with possession

         In the raw caverns of the Increate
         we forge the dusk of Chaos
         to that imperious jewellery of the Universe
                 —the Beautiful—

         While to your eyes
                     A delicate crop
         of criminal mystic immortelles v
         stands to the censor's scythe.




from "The Lost Lunar Baedeker, Poems" selected and edited by Roger Conover, 1996, New York, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux
© 2018 Estate of Mina Loy, courtesy of Roger L. Conover.




APOLOGY OF GENIUS, ca. 1922. First published in The Dial 73  (July 1922, pp. 73-74). Reprinted in Lunar Baedeker without changes.

No MS has been located, but a fragmentary draft of a sequel, "Apology of Genius II," dated 1930, is among Loy's papers at the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, Mina Loy Archive.

Reprinted in Lunar Baedeker without substantive changes. ^

The text of this frequently anthologized poem follows the first published version, except for the following emendations:

  Line 13: fools' ] fool's ^  
  Line 37: immortelles ] immortels ^
(According to the OED, "immortelles" are various composite flowers of papery texture which retain their color and shape after being cut and dried. Jmmortelles are commonly used to adorn gravestones and tombs. Loy wore  them in her hats. Here she evokes them in praise of artistic genius.)
  Editor's Note: This was one of two works by Loy which Yvor Winters felt "need, in [his]  judgment, yield ground to no one." The other was "Der Blinde Junge". Winters' essay is one of the first significant attempts to come to terms with  Loy's work, both on its own terms and in relation to that of her contemporaries;  the only significant prior attempt was Pound's review of the 1917 Others anthology  in which he first took up Loy and Marianne Moore.

Winters concluded that Loy had  more to offer than Moore and Stevens, and is "one of the two living poets who have the most ... to offer the younger American writers." William Carlos Williams was the other.  Of the four poets, Winters found Loy's achievement
    "by all odds the most astounding.  Using an unexciting method, and writing of the drabbest of material, she has written seven or eight of the most brilliant and unshakably solid satirical  poems of our time, and at least two non-satirical pieces that possess ...  a beauty that is unspeakably moving and profound."  
  Of all the modernists,  he declared Williams and Loy the two who "present us with a solid foundation  in place of Whitman's badly aligned corner-stones, a foundation which is likely to be employed, I suspect, by a generation or two .... If it materializes,  Emily Dickinson will have been its only forerunner."

Winters essay bears reading in its entirety (Yvor Winters, "Mina Loy," The Dial 70, June 1926,  pp. 496-99). His assessment stands in sharp counterpoint to Harriet Monroe's  review of Lunar Baedeker:
    Mostly, her utterance is a condescension from a spirit too burdened with experience to relax the ironic tension of her grasp upon it. The load being too heavy to talk about, she carries it as she may . .. making gay little satiric moves as she passes, and giving forth sardonic little cries.(Poetry 23:2 [November 1923], pp. 100-3)  
  "Apology of Genius" was Loy's first poem translated into French. Natalie Clifford Barney was so moved by Loy's May 6, 1927, reading at her 20, rue Jacob salon that she later translated this poem and published it in her memoirs (Aventures de l'Esprit [Paris: Editions Emile-Paul Freres, 1929], pp. 213-16), along with an account of the poet reading it:  



Her beauty has withdrawn into itself. She offers us this "apology of genius," and an entire prismatic poetry which, thanks to some perception of a fourth destiny, she escapes.

(Translation by John Spalding Gatton, ed., Natalie Clifford Barney: Adventures of the Mind [New York: NYU Press, 1992}, pp. 100-3) ^