Mina Loy, as the ideal modern woman at the turn of the twentieth century—having numerous love affairs, perpetually travelling internationally, and writing controversial poems—subverted many traditional tropes and expectations of love poems throughout her work. According to Eric Murphy Selinger, the modernists as a whole “in an attempt to demystify love […] concur on its attendant threat of melancholia, a crippling deprivation of meaning or value that leaves us unsure narcissists, not good for each other or ourselves” (Selinger 21). In other words, love can cause great pain and confusion, and the modernists tend to focus primarily on its destructive properties. Many critics view Loy’s “Songs to Joannes”—one of her most prominent and contentious works—as a dark, defeatist portrayal of a failed love affair in this modernist context. Selinger regards Loy’s break with conventional grammar and layout to be a “deliberate exploration of aesthetic failure,” which demonstrates Loy’s refusal to be “rescued by language when she has not been rescued by love” (Selinger 22).
Both Rachel Blau DuPlessis and Maeera Shreiber focus on the denial of maternity and its devastating impact on the speaker in their assessments of the poem. DuPlessis states that “The final sense of loss is not between [the two lovers], only or exclusively, but between her and the missing child,” and Schreiber asserts, “I want to place Love Songs in the context of what Alicia Ostriker identifies as ‘the abortion’ poem, a subset of ‘the motherhood poem’” (DuPlessis 63, Shreiber 102). Shreiber also notes some of the poem’s meta-poetic aspects, indicating that it conveys a bleak view of the art of writing poetry in the modern age, as well (Shreiber 93). While this fatalism and pain certainly play a large role in the poem, such wholly bleak interpretations of “Songs to Joannes” fail to account for or explain its continued allure for undergraduate readers like me. We are young readers, who are not completely sold on a fatalistic, marred view of love, and Loy’s inventive poetics and complex realtionship with love offer us a deconstruction and subsequent fresh reconstruction of love in the modern world—messy, unprecedented, and undoubtedly painful, but capable of new beauty and significance despite that.
This poem initially appeared in the first publication of Others magazine in 1915 and only included the first four sections. It was originally entitled simply “Love Songs” (Loy, Index of Modernist Magazines “Love Songs”). It caused so much outrage due to its desensitized, sexual nature that Amy Lowell—a prominent imagist poet of the time—refused to submit work to the magazine after its publication (Academy of American Poets). Then, two years later, Others published the poem in its entirety, under its later and current title “Songs to Joannes” (Loy, Index of Modernist Magazines “Songs to Joannes”).
Through this project, I am exploring how digital publication and analysis can heighten readers’ access to, interaction with, and understanding of a poem. This site is free to acess and brings together my newly imagined publication of the full poem, a summary of the critical conversation surrounding it with links to the original publications, and my own close-reading and analysis. In standard paid print format, the publication of the full text and the critical analysis rarely coexist–with the exception of critical introductions or forwards added to texts in later editions–which prevents readers from contextualizing while reading. By synthesizing these elements, I aim to provide a more complete exploration of the poem than would be possible from any of the elements in isolation.
I felt that it was only practical to closely read a few sections of the poem, but I have selected sections that I feel most strongly represent the arch of the speaker’s love and subsequent heartbreak, which is my primary focus for analysis. Continue reading my analysis linearly by following the link at the bottom of this page, or jump to my digital booklet and come back to the analysis section by section.