Often seen as the last golden years of travel, the interwar years witnessed a boom in travel writing. The end of the war meant restrictions on tourism were lifted and a new generation of bright young bay–deckers emerged from the shambles of the war armed with tobacco & necktie, pen and notepad.
Lawrence’s Sea and Sardinia recounts a journey made from Sicily to Sardinia with his wife, Frieda. Very much like Gertrude Stein, Lawrence problematically strived to capture the “essence” of the places he visited —i.e. the Sardinians are such and such, and the Sicilians this and that.
This of course raises one key aspect of travel & expatriation: the difference between being there and being there.
The traveller who is there, so to speak, is the ideal traveller. They will let the country they visit influence them in unsuspected ways and bathe in their newfound culture. More often, however, it’s just easier to carry your emotional and cultural baggage with you wherever you go.
If like Lawrence, you’ve already set shop with a typewriter and a pack of Lucky Strikes a few hours upon your arrival in sensual atavistic Sicily, ready to capture its soul on paper, well, it’s safe to say to that you belong to the second category of travellers.
But, if like Lawrence, you have already set shop with a typewriter and a pack of Lucky Strikes a few hours upon your arrival in sensual atavistic Sicily ready to capture its soul on paper, well, it’s safe to say to that you belong to the second category of travellers.
The twenties and early thirties saw the formation of literary salons and movements – or ‘movemongs’ as Pound was to call them – scattered across various European cities. The Modernist giant and world traveller Mina Loy for instance reached various stages of artistic maturity throughout her travels and encounters with artists across the globe.
In Paris, Loy frequented Stein’s mythical salon, where she was exposed to the likes of Picasso, Ezra Pound, Joyce, and Djuna Barnes. Later, in Florence, Loy underwent a short futurist spell and dated the Italian poet Marinetti, who was the founder and leader of the awkward Futurist movement. Growing increasingly uncomfortable with her boyfriend’s aggressive views and misogyny, Loy eventually moved to New York where she met the Greenwich Village crowd and composed some of her best work.
Her several expatriations meant Loy was able to meet many of the key vanguards of her time and draw from their techniques. Much admired by Pound, who described her as one of the very few American writers “who [could] write anything of interest in verse”, Loy was pushed to literary experimentation by her peers. Travel also meant that Loy was familiar with the condition of dislocation, which much of her work treats.
Meant to disorientate the reader, Loy’s poems were logo-poeic, which means that they focused on language rather than context. Particularly concerned with layout, Loy’s poems play with typography and spatial arrangement. Her poetry contains breaks and spaces where there shouldn’t be. Line are cut off in the middle of words, and there’s absolutely no regular use of punctuation or capitalisation.
Forget structure and story telling. Loy writes about modern life, and modern life is confusing. Loy’s poems feat. lots of unfamiliar words, specialist jargon and puns. The work’s difficult to navigate, which is just like travelling: nothing is familiar and our expectations are persistently undermined.
Towards the end of her life, Loy underwent a different kind of dislocation – a financial one. Settled in Manhattan, Loy visited the Bowery, an impoverished quarter of New York, and focused on writing about her homeless neighbours. ‘Hot Cross Bum’, whilst retaining the key modernist techniques she acquired through the course of her travels, envisages alcoholism and complete destitution. Years later, Loy passed away alone in Aspen, Colorado: rootless perhaps, but a damn good writer too.
Loy passed away in Aspen, Colorado: rootless, perhaps, but a damn good writer too.
First published in River’s Edge Journal on Jan 17th 2014. Republished on mathildefrot.com with some edits in Feb 2016.