Pure Poetry #32: Gertrude Stein & Mina Loy

Pure Poetry Week(s):

#1 – 2/23/2011 – Intro & Def Poetry Jam, by Riese
#2 – 2/23/2011 – Eileen Myles, by Carmen
#3 – 2/23/2011 – Anis Mojgani, by Crystal
#4 – 2/24/2011 – Andrea Gibson, by Carmen & Katrina/KC Danger
#5 – 2/25/2011 – Leonard Cohen, by Crystal
#6 – 2/25/2011 – Staceyann Chin, by Carmen
#7 – 2/25/2011 – e.e. cummings, by Intern Emily
#8 – 2/27/2011 – Louise Glück, by Lindsay
#9 – 2/28/2011 – Shel Silverstein, by Intern Lily & Guest
#10 – 2/28/2011 – Michelle Tea, by Laneia
#11 – 2/28/2011 – Saul Williams, by Katrina Chicklett Danger
#12 – 3/2/2011 – Maya Angelou, by Laneia
#13 – 3/4/2011 – Jack Spicer, by Riese
#14 – 3/5/2011 – Diane DiPrima, by Sady Doyle
#15 – 3/6/2011 – Pablo Neruda, by Intern Laura
#16 – 3/7/2011 – Vanessa Hidary, by Lindsay
#17 – 3/7/2011 – Adrienne Rich, by Taylor
#18 – 3/8/2011 – Raymond Carver, by Riese
#19 – 3/9/2011 – Rock WILK, by Gabrielle
#20 – 3/9/2011 – Veronica Franco, by Queerie Bradshaw
#21 – 3/10/2011 – Poems I Like, by Tao Lin
#22 – 3/12/2011 – William Carlos Williams & Robert Creeley, by Becky
#23 – 3/13/2011 – NSFW Sunday is Pure Poetry Edition, by Riese
#24 – 3/14/2011 – Charles Bukowski, by Intern Emily
#25 – 3/16/2011 – Rainer Maria Rilke, by Riese
#26 – 3/17/2011 – Lee Harwood by Mari
#27 – 3/18/2011 – Jeffrey McDaniel by Julieanne
#28 – 3/20/2011 – Dorothy Porter by Julia
#29 – 3/21/2011 – Sylvia Plath, by Riese
#30 – 3/24/2011 – Poems About Being a Homogay, by Riese
#31 – 3/28/2011 – Mary Oliver by Morgan
#32 – 3/29/2011 – Gertrude Stein + Mina Loy by Intern Emily


According to Mary E. Galvin, who wrote a book about Modernist queer writers which I used for my essay about Gertrude Stein and Mina Loy, who was not queer, Gertrude Stein is the most famous lesbian ever aside from Sappho (she wrote this before Ellen & Portia took over the world).

But Gertrude, who I affectionately refer to in my head as “Gerty Steinberg” (why??), was more than just a lesbian, obviously. She was a lesbian writer. She wrote lesbian fiction and lesbian plays and also lesbian poetry which is relevant to us because it’s pure poetry week and we’re gay, or something. Wikipedia says that Gerty was a Republican and in 1934 thought Hitler should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but, like, I dunno, it’s Wikipedia and I haven’t read that anywhere else.

gerty & alice b. toklas

To be honest, the essay I wrote was not about Gerty’s life, so I don’t really know much about it. I hear she was a lesbian, and can’t really talk about anything else. But I do want to talk about her poetry.

Gerty only published one book of poetry in her lifetime, called Tender Buttons. It’s a fascinatingly weird thing, divided into three parts called Objects, Food, and Rooms. Gerty experimented with “verbal” cubism and prose poetry, and the result is a bunch of poems that look like absolute nonsense words relating to objects, food, and rooms, repeating themselves leaving you very confused.

For example, A Box:

Out of kindness comes redness and out of rudeness comes rapid same question, out of an eye comes research, out of selection comes painful cattle. So then the order is that a white way of being round is something suggesting a pin and is it disappointing, it is not, it is so rudimentary to be analysed and see a fine substance strangely, it is so earnest to have a green point not to red but to point again.

But a lot of Tender Buttons is about domestic space, and when you consider Gerty’s domestic space, it’s with another woman, so she’s writing from a female perspective about a home with no husband. Pretty cool for her time, huh?

Gertrude Stein also wrote a lot of things laced with sexual imagery, specifically lesbian sexual imagery. Take this line from Objects:

Aider, why aider why whow, whow stop touch, aider whow, aider stop the muncher, muncher munchers.

(When I was doing research about this, someone suggested that ‘Ada’ was Alice’s nickname (Gerty’s partner), and ‘Aider’ is a play on ‘Ada’, as in, aid her, like, help her orgasm.)

I wish that I could find an online version of A Book Concluding With As A Wife Has A Cow: A Love Story because also according to someone whom I read while doing research, ‘cow’ really means ‘orgasm’. Fun times.

Anyways, the point is that you should read Tender Buttons. Also, “tender buttons”? FEMALE EROGENOUS ZONES.

Now, moving on to Mina Loy. You might be wondering a) who is Mina Loy and b) why did I decide to stick her in a post with Gerty. Well, Mina Loy was also a Modernist poet (like Gertrude, though she was born later and lived longer), and she and Gerty were friends. Cool right?

In her time, Mina Loy was well known in North America and Europe, and now she is known nowhere. But you guys, Mina Loy was an awesome feminist single mother criticizer of the Patriarchy! She was popular with a lot of people, including one Ezra Pound who thought her work was so intelligent he invented the term ‘logopoeia’ to describe it.


Mina Loy claimed that she was “not a poet” despite writing over 300 poems. Unfortunately, most of them are not online. She also wrote a poem about Gertrude Stein, added in after her essay about Gerty:

of the laboratory
of vocabulary
she crushed
the tonnage
of consciousness
congealed to phrases
to extract
a radium of the word

She also wrote a poem about giving birth, which was a big Thing back in 1923. From Parturition:

Rises from the subconscious
Impression of a cat
With blind kittens
Among her legs
Same undulating life-stir
I am that cat

Rises from the subconscious
Impression of small animal carcass
Covered with blue bottles
— Epicurean —
And through the insects
Waves that same undulation of living
I am knowing
All about

The next morning
Each woman-of-the-people
Tiptoeing the red pile of the carpet
Doing hushed service
Each woman-of-the-people
Wearing a halo
A ludicrous little halo
Of which she is sublimely unaware

I once heard in a church
— Man and woman God made them —

Thank God.

Read all of Lunar Baedecker here, and if you have the chance, read some books with Mina Loy’s poetry in them! It’s kind of tricky since most of her stuff has been out of print since forever. The Lost Lunar Baedecker is a good place to start since it’s a compilation of a lot of her work.

Mina Loy was a feisty woman and I feel very affectionate towards her. I feel like if she were alive today she would be a super woman who kicks Maggie Gallagher in the face. Also, poetry!

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Emily Choo started as an intern with Autostraddle when she was 18 years old. She's now 10 years older and lives in Toronto with her partner and cat. The defining moment of her career was when Riese said this about her: " I think Emily Choo is a very bright, 'poetically inclined' girl who pays attention to everything and knows almost everything (the point of stuff, how to read, how beautiful things feel, how scary things feel, etc.) but doesn't believe/accept/realize yet that she knows almost everything." She still doesn't believe she knows anything, so, thank you, Riese, for that.

Emily has written 100 articles for us.


  1. I think that you’re totally correct in pointing out the context behind ‘aider’, especially as the french verb ‘aider’ literally means ‘to help’.

    And we all like to help…right?

  2. My favourite piece from Tender Buttons is A Long Dress and it starts,

    “What is the current that makes machinery, that makes it crackle, what is the current that presents a long line and a necessary waist. What is this current.
    What is the wind. What is it.”

    Every time I see a beautiful woman in a sexy dress I think of that. Is that super geeky? Probably. I’ll stop now.

  3. When I was in high school and we learned about gertrude stein, my teacher gave us this website with voice recordings of gerty reading her poetry. I like the cadence of it, even if it’s really mindbogglingly hard to follow.
    I also suppose if Gerty were to write in the slang of kids today and then brought it back to the 1930s, they wouldn’t have any idea what she was saying either. so. there is that.

  4. i’m totally familiar with Mina Loy, if only because Billy Corgan wrote a song named after her, and I’m a Smashing Pumpkins fanatic :)

  5. I think my username requires me to comment.

    I love the Stein because her poetry is so much about redefinition. But it’s not about a “true” definition. Its about alternative realities and forcing people to realize that their former definitions might not be adequate and other definitions can and do exist. And that they’re valid. That IS pretty amazing for her time. Especially when you think about it in a queer context.

    And one of her nicknames for Alice B. Toklas was also pussy. So.

  6. Okay, so for the first three quarters of this post I was reading “Mina Loy” and thinking “Myrna Loy” and thinking, really?? wow! Fail.

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