What is a Baedecker?
The term “Baedeker” originated in 1826 when German publisher Verlag Karl Baedeker first created his worldwide travel guides (Churchill et al.). Written by specialists, these guides to various cities all over the world included introductions, fold-out maps with routes and facilities, and information about noteworthy sights and destinations such as museums and attractions. Flaneurs rejoice! Growing in popularity through the century, the “Baedekers” became best-sellers internationally with guides translated into multiple languages (Wikipedia).
From 1921 to 1922 Loy lived in Florence, Paris, and Berlin. With her artistic temperament causing a strain on her relationship with her mother, she was cut off financially from her family and bounced around various expatriate circles before ultimately moving to Paris. During these two years, Loy developed her art and cultivated new relationships; she met Sigmund Freud and engaged both professionally and privately with Gertrude Stein.
Loy’s biographer Carolyn Burke asserts that Lunar Baedecker is designed as a guidebook or “baedeker” to modernism. The book’s first part, “Poems 1921-1922,” “charted the shapes of modern consciousness through its own rejections and recreations” (Burke 322). The poems engage with modernist aesthetics, authors, and artists.
Written while Loy lived in Italy, the earlier poems that comprise the second part of the volume “outlined the personal itinerary that had preceded this map-making” (Burke 323). Isolated physically in a mountain house and socially as a foreigner during the first World War, Loy became embroiled in her own war on gender, as she explained to her literary agent, Carl Van Vechten: “‘What I feel now are feminine politics,” she wrote Carl, “but in a cosmic way that may not fit in anywhere’” (qtd in Burke 187). Loy’s poems from this time period deal not only with the politics of gender but also with the human position in a larger cosmic universe.
Publishing the 1923 Lunar Baedecker
Included in “Poems 1914-1915” was the multi-sectioned “Love Songs,” whose first four sections were originally published in the United States in the July 1915 issue of Others. This complete series of poems was published under the title “Songs to Joannes” two years later in July 1917 as a special issue of Others. Critics described the poems as “shocking” and “scandalizing” (qtd. in Burke 190). Curiously enough, either Loy or her editor chose to revert to the title “Love Songs” in Lunar Baedecker. The second part of Lunar Baedecker includes some other published poems as well as some previously unpublished early poems.
The full 1923 Lunar Baedecker was also shocking to critics when it was first published. English poet Edwin Muir in 1924 The New Age review of the collection acknowledges Loy’s complexities. He writes that Loy’s work, despite its tendency to fall into “Babu English,” had an “intensity” that came through—but only in “flashes” (223). Despite Muir’s critique of Loy’s word choice, he admired her multi-linguistic word usage and its “cosmic meaning.” Ultimately Muir says, her writing is “so genuine that her utterances arrest us” (223).
Other critics were less forgiving. Editor of Poetry magazine, Harriet Monroe in 1924 wrote that Loy’s “utterance is a condescension from a spirit too burdened with experience to relax the ironic tension in her grasp,” but nonetheless deserves attention for its “modern temperament” (qtd. in Burke 336).
In 1958 Loy published Lunar Baedeker & Time-Tables, and in 1982 Roger Conover curated The Lost Lunar Baedecker. Both of these collections reprint several poems from the original 1923 edition.