Features

Dropping the Baroness in the middle

Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, Dada dressing, German Arts, and poetry today

Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, Summer (1924). Djuna Barnes Papers, Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries.

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.”[1] 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.”[2]

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.[3] 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 We locate and situate her poetry in previous and current literary trends by introducing three previously unpublished poems, new and groundbreaking biographical facts concerning the Baroness’s German poetry, a rereading of her Dadaist poetry that situates it within the frame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.


 

1.  Harriet Monroe, “New International Magazines,” Poetry 19, no. 4 (January 1922), 227.

2.  Jane Heap, “Dada,” The Little Review 6, no. 6 (1919): 46.

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.

Barbara Guest: The art of poetry

Barbara Guest, June 6, 1998, at friend June Felter's house, Berkeley, in front of Felter's painting. Photo by June Felter.

As part of of Jacket2’s publication of Barbara Guest’s 1995 LINEbreak interview, we are publishing two of Guest’s early poems, “Escape” and “The Inhabitants (each available as a scan of the original typsescripts and as an html version). These poems were written around 1945, well before Guest’s first book, which was published in 1960. We thank Hadley Guest for sending us these previously unpublished poems. We are also publishing the final poem Guest reads on LINEbreak, “Multiplicity,” which had as its only previous publication The Iowa Review 26, no. 2 (Summer 1996). These three poems are published here with the permission of Hadley Guest. — Charles Bernstein

Poetry in 1960, a symposium

The materials published in this feature are led by my introduction to a symposium on the poetry and poetics of 1960. The introduction you'll read here is more or less just as I spoke it a few months ago at the Writers House in Philadelphia. Since then, Gordon Faylor and I have gathered somewhat revised versions of the presentations made that evening. We then solicited responses from various others and we are happy to present these also as part of our 1960 feature, along with several other images and documents. I have been obsessively tracking 1960 doings and writings — reading, watching (film and TV), researching, interviewing, cross-referencing, following apparently meaningless leads; some of these have been posted to my blog “1960.” Needless to say, then, I was delighted to have 1960-obsessed company for a night in December 2010 — and then, further, throughout the following weeks and months as I worked with the original presenters and added respondents. I wish to thank Gordon, who has been the super-precise editor of this elaborate feature and who is responsible for all ways in which the gathering looks good; insofar as it looks bad, suffers from biases and gaps, etc. — that's fully my doing.

A note on the media: The PennSound page devoted this symposium is the best place to go if you want links to segmented audio and a video recording of the entire proceeding. The Jacket2 pages featuring the final, revised text of each presentation — listed in the table of contents below — include links to audio and, where possible, to a segmented portion of the video. We have also created a page that enables anyone to use embedding code so that the video can be made available on web sites, blogs and social media sites.