Dropping the Baroness in the middle
Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, Dada dressing, German Arts, and poetry today
The Little Review magazine published Dadaist Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven’s poetry during the height of a dialectic phase in little magazine culture when conversations about the nature of literature and “the literary” were ubiquitous. In particular, readers contested the value of Dada poetry and “the Baroness” became coterminous with what some considered the worst of this experimental movement. In January 1922, for example, Harriet Monroe wrote in Poetry that “the Little Review […] is headed straight for Dada; but we could forgive even that if it would drop Else von Freytag-Loringhoven on the way.” Jane Heap, editor of The Little Review, responded in a brief piece entitled “Dada” that “[w]e do intend to drop the baroness — right into the middle of the history of American poetry,” for the very reason that “the Baroness,” whom Heap calls “the first American dada,” represents lived art: she is “the only one living anywhere who dresses dada, loves dada, lives dada.”
The Baroness has been the focus of much cultural study in the last decade by art historians and feminist scholars who wish to reclaim her place as an influential member of the New York Dada scene, but discussions about her poetry are few. With this Jacket2 feature, we further the work done by the editors and readers of The Little Review in the 1920s who sought to locate the Baroness’s poetry within experimental trends, but we also critique the narrative of American poetry history out of which the Baroness’s poetry has often been dropped. We locate and situate her poetry in previous and current literary trends by introducing three previously unpublished poems, new and groundbreaking biographical facts concerning the Baroness’s German poetry, a rereading of her Dadaist poetry that situates it within the frame of feminist performance art, and a contemporary poetic response to her work.
3. This scholarly trajectory begins with Robert Reiss’s “‘My Baroness’: Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven,” Dada surrealism 14 (1985): 81–101; Amelia Jones’s Irrational Modernism: A Neurasthenic History of New York Dada (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004); and a handful of articles written by her biographer Irene Gammel: “The Baroness Elsa and the Politics of Transgressive Body Talk,” in American Modernism Across the Arts, ed. Jay Bochner and Justin Edwards (New York: Peter Lang, 1999), 73–96; “Breaking the Bonds of Discretion: Baroness Elsa and the Female Confession,” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 14, no. 1 (Spring 1995): 149–66; “Limbswishing Dada in New York: Baroness Elsa’s Gender Performance,” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature/Revue Canadienne de Littérature Comparée 29, no. 1 (2002): 3–24; and “‘No Woman Lover’: Baroness Elsa’s Intimate Biography,” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature (1994): 1–17. In addition, an exhibition titled Making Mischief: Dada Invades New York, curated by Francis Naumann with Beth Venn, was put up at the Whitney Museum of Art in New York in 1997. The Baroness’s poetry is examined somewhat in Gammel’s Baroness Elsa: Gender, Dada, and Everyday Modernity—a Cultural Biography Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002) and more specifically in Gammel’s “She Strips Naked: The Poetry of Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven,” The Literary Review 46, no. 3 (Spring 2003): 468–80.