Mary E. Galvin: On "Love Songs" / "Songs to Joannes"
The cycle comprises a powerful critique of heterosexual love and romance as a textual creation of the phallocentric-centric discourse, even as this discourse was being subjected to modernist revisions. In the first poem, Loy inverts the usual conception of romance as the great elevator of base feeling into an ennobling transcendence. In Loy's view, romance in itself is debasing, and belief in it keeps one bound to a narrow and constrictive consciousness:
[No. 1, lines 1-7]
While these opening lines of the cycle may indicate Loy's encounter and agreement with the futurist credo of antisentimentalism, she questions the role she, as a female, will be cast in (or will cast herself in) while "Pig Cupid" sows his "wild oats" in the anatomically described "mucous-membrane" of the female body. She concludes this first poem with her suspicions:
[No 1, lines 13-18]
The image of fragmentation (Coloured glass) with which she "ends" this first poem is both an ongoing theme and a symbol of her poetic technique enacted throughout the rest of the cycle. As Virginia Kouidis has pointed out in her study of the poem, the phrase "Coloured glass" is a kaleidoscopic image that Loy introduces early on, and the poem itself comprises a kaleidoscopic view of her romantic/sexual experiences. Arranged in a collage format, each poem deals with a fragment of her experience. It is through rough juxtaposition of seemingly disparate pieces that she presents the reader with a full view of her engagement with internalized forms of romanticism ("Trimming subliminal flicker") on the one hand and the sometimes crude antisentimentalism of the modernist male on the other.
The form Loy creates in order to accommodate and express the complexity of her vision deserves much more detailed attention than I can give to the work here. Throughout the cycle, Loy weaves a complex of images involving "symbolic colors...cosmological images (sun, moon, stars), time images (day, noon, dawn, midnight, clockwork), animal and biological images and terms, images of light, vision, vegetation, flight, deity, the house, and mechanization" (Kouidis, 63). The complex interrelation of these images recalls and expands on the complexity of Loy's notions of consciousness, language, identity, and sexuality found in "Parturition."
As in "Parturition," the speaker of "Songs to Joannes" seeks to rewrite the "book of love" in order to heighten consciousness and liberate it from the narrow strictures of conventional morality .In doing so, the scope of her consciousness can range freely and without reservation through the entire span of human existence, from mundane life on the street to the expansive mysteries of the human's place in the cosmos.
Even as she embarks on this futurist's deconstruction of romantic love as nothing more than a fantasy built around the physicality of sex, Loy's speaker of the "Songs to Joannes" can't help but wonder whether this deconstruction doesn't have vastly different implications for the male and female modernist. While for the female, such a deconstruction may involve a difficult reassessment of the ways in which romantic beliefs have been internalized and clung to as a false form of self-fulfillment, Loy's speaker is compelled to wonder whether some secret, well-hidden fear might underlie the male antisentimental attitude toward sex.
Perhaps attempting to undo the bonds of romanticized sentimentality through reconstructing sex in a more mechanical way results in a loss of passion that would convert sex too easily from the overwritten sentimentality of romance to a completely meaningless act of cosmic vapidity.
Throughout the cycle of the "Songs to Joannes," Loy is walking a fine line in her exploration of a failed vision of a (modernist) love affair. On the one hand, she wants to join with her male counterpart in describing sex in new and potentially liberating ways. On the other hand, she is suspicious of the male's readiness to throw off any obligation to human feeling in his sexual encounters. The freedom from sentimentality he seeks may in fact prove to be nothing more than an expansion of the conventional double-standard that allows the male to carelessly sow his "wild oats" and ignore any interaction of human consciousnesses that may occur there:
[XIII, lines 146-154]
In poem XIV of the cycle, Loy tries on the futurist vision of humans as machines caught in the mechanical workings of an indifferent universe. . .
Counterpoised to the potential emptiness of this vision, Loy cannot simply abstract herself away from the fecundity of Nature, even if Nature has been used in service to the metaphors of repressive romantic love.
[XXII, lines 238-241]
Even as the lovers' resist these images of meaningfulness in sex, they are still drawn to them:
Ultimately, Loy's speaker finds her initial suspicions confirmed:
[XXVII, lines 298-304]
She finds that her questioning of the futurist antiromantic agenda leads to her "Crucifixion" as "a busybody /Longing to interfere so /With the intimacies /Of your insolent isolation" (from XXXI). In the penultimate stanza, she identifies herself as
Loy's conclusion here, of the unreasoning evolution of human consciousness out of the chaos of biology, flings us into her final stanza, only one line long. . .
Loy's final lines are often heavily ironic in their meaning and tone. Returning us to the beginning, where the gross "Pig Cupid" is the "Spawn of Fantasies," she has covered several attempts at disengaging from these romantic mythologies, only to understand in these final stanzas that in her attempt to expose romantic love as a creation of the phallocentric literary discourse, she herself has contributed to the use of "love" as a central topic for her own literary endeavors. Along with the irony of this self-reflexive interpretation, Loy is also implying that her futurist lover, presenting himself in his sexual and intellectual vitality, is actually positioning himself in the role traditionally held by "Love" in our cultural mythologies, and, as such, wants to take over as "the preeminent litterateur."
|Title||Mary E. Galvin: On "Love Songs" / "Songs to Joannes"||Type of Content||Criticism|
|Criticism Author||Mary E. Galvin||Criticism Target||Mina Loy|
|Criticism Type||Poet||Originally Posted||10 Jun 2020|
|Publication Status||Excerpted Criticism||Publication||Queer Poetics: Five Modernist Women Writers|
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