Monday, February 13, 2017

Emily Izsak on Mina Loy

The first time I met Victor Coleman, poet and founding editor of Coach House Press (who would later become my mentor, editor, and friend), he asked me which female poets I was reading. I was sort of taken aback. We were at a pub in the Annex (in Toronto) at a big table full of male poets and at the time, I wasn’t sure why he didn’t ask me which poets in general I was reading— why I, the only woman at the table, should be the recipient of that gender specific question. After I named the usual suspects (Plath, Stein), he recommended some women I hadn’t heard of before, among them, Mina Loy.

Later, Victor would lend me his copy of The Lost Lunar Baedeker. I would flip through the pages haphazardly until I got to:

Spawn   of    Fantasies
Silting the appraisable
Pig Cupid     his rosy snout
Rooting erotic garbage

I stopped— because she had done it. Everything I was trying to do with words she had done already nearly a hundred years earlier. I finished reading “Songs To Joannes” and thought, all I want to do is write like Mina Loy. From then on, whenever I sat down to write a poem, I would open one by Loy in a browser tab on my computer. I would check my own work against hers; if I didn’t want to read my own poem as much as I wanted to read hers, it wasn’t good enough. I am still reaching for “erotic garbage.”

Loy’s surreal and unusual images spill over each line, accumulating sparkle and strangeness with momentum. In her poems, multisyllabic Latinate words stand alongside moments of simplicity in protest against the unpoetic. When her work becomes difficult to navigate, sound takes over, makes you forget why you ever tried to make sense of anything when you could just sit back and enjoy the music. My boyfriend once told me that “Mina Loy” sounds like something that Doodle Bob would say— and I like to think that she would appreciate her sonic resemblance to composition come alive. 

I now run a series on my website called “New Recruits” in which I invite poetry “newbs” (people who don’t typically read poetry) to read a poem by a contemporary poet and answer some questions about it. The readers are mostly my family and friends, people I know pretty well, and I try to choose poems that fit each reader’s tastes and personality. I want new readers to enjoy the experience of reading contemporary poetry and I want that experience to be different than being forced to read poems in high school. As curator of the series, I’m very aware of expectations to maintain a gender balance, and to feature a diverse lineup of contemporary poets. I have noticed, however, that I typically match female readers with female poets—and I think this is because there aren’t as many of them—us (being published in book form anyway) and if we only get a few and if I’m not planning on featuring a poet more than once, I’m going to give an excellent poem by a female poet to a reader who can not only appreciate her use of language but also share in the gendered experience of the world that her language falls out of. That is not to say that male or non-binary readers can’t appreciate work from a female poet. Of course they can, and they do. But ladies, let’s get our fix where we can. Which female poets are you reading? Not because you should or because you owe it to your sex, but because you’ll like it. I promise you’ll like it.

Emily Izsak is in her second year of U of T’s MA in English and Creative Writing program. Her work has been published in Arc Poetry Magazine, The Puritan, House Organ, Cough, The Steel Chisel, The Doris, and The Hart House Review. In 2014 she was selected as PEN Canada’s New Voices Award nominee. Her chapbook, Stickup, is available on and her first full-length collection, Whistle Stops, will be out in April 2017 from Signature Editions.

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