Lunar Baedeker

A silver Lucifer
cocaine in cornucopia

To some somnambulists
of adolescent thighs
in satirical draperies

Peris in livery
for posthumous parvenues

Delirious Avenues
with the chandelier souls
of infusoria
from Pharoah’s tombstones

to mercurial doomsdays
Odious oasis
in furrowed phosphorous

the eye-white sky-light
white-light district
of lunar lusts

             Stellectric signs
“Wing shows on Starway”
“Zodiac carrousel”

of ecstatic dust
and ashes whirl
from hallucinatory citadels
of shattered glass
into evacuate craters

A flock of dreams   
browse on Necropolis

From the shores
of oval oceans
in the oxidized Orient

Onyx-eyed Odalisques
and ornithologists
the flight
of Eros obsolete

And “Immortality”
mildews ...   
in the museums of the moon

“Nocturnal cyclops”
“Crystal concubine”

Pocked with personification
the fossil virgin of the skies
waxes and wanes

Source: The Lost Lunar Baedeker: Poems of Mina Loy. Reprinted by permission of Roger Conover, Literary Executor. (1996)

Writing Ideas

1. “Baedekers” were 19th-century travel guides; Loy’s poem plays with their function by proclaiming itself a travel guide to the moon. Write a poem that is a “guide” to an unusual, unexpected place.

2. Loy’s diction in “Lunar Baedeker” is notably difficult, even arch. Try a “translation” of the poem into different registers of English—look up synonyms, or replace words or phrases with contemporary formulations.

3. “Lunar Baedeker” describes a dissolute urban landscape; Jessica Bernstein, in her lively poem guide, believes it also might describe the experience of going to the movies. Think about cities you have been to, or cities you have seen in movies. Write a poem that describes both the cityscape and the experience of being there (or watching it on screen). Try, like Loy, to use words that are both descriptive and evaluative.

4. The poem is packed with alliteration: try writing a poem that uses similar effects the majority of the time. 

Discussion Questions

1. “Lunar Baedeker” is written in very short lines, sometimes just a single word. Why did Loy choose to use such short lines? Notice the lines that are just a single word—what are the words and why might Loy have isolated them in this way?

2. What is the narrator’s feeling about the place she’s describing? Is she neutral, angry, excited, disgusted? What do you notice about the tone of this poem? What elements of the poem itself—word choice, line breaks—help you understand its tone?

3. Near the end of “Lunar Baedeker” some quoted language appears. Where do you think it comes from? Why did Loy include it? What does putting something in quotation marks do to the poem, and to your experience of reading the poem?

Teaching Tips

1. Mina Loy was an artist as well as a poet. Read the poem a few times aloud to your class, or have each student read it aloud in a circle. Then have them illustrate Loy’s “Lunar Baedeker,” perhaps stanza by stanza. What visual cues does the poem itself contain? Ask students to think about the mood of the place as they illustrate the poem, as well as its sights.

2. Like much of Loy’s poetry, “Lunar Baedeker” is written in an aggressively “high” diction. Perhaps to prepare for the translation prompt, have students look up all the words they don’t know in the poem. Why did Loy choose to use such difficult words? What is the effect of using a purposefully complex vocabulary in poems? Bring in some examples of descriptive or place poems written in an easy, accessible style (“Between Walls” by William Carlos Williams, for example). Compare and contrast with Loy’s poem: why choose difficult words over easy ones? What does Loy’s poem show us about language that Williams’s, for example, might not?