Online modernist women reading group: Mina Loy

I don’t know a huge amount about Mina Loy and what I do know is very much through a Stein prism.

I know for example that her husband once suggested Stein put more commas in a piece of work, and she agreed but later deleted them.

And I know that at Natalie Barney’s salon in celebration of Stein, which took place in January 1927, Mina Loy read some of Gertrude’s work.

I need to do better, in other words!

Here’s a poem by Mina Loy. I hope you enjoy it and please share your thoughts in the comments.

Nightingale singing—gale of Nanking
of Ming-dynasty
in Ming
sing long



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Modernist women reading group: Colette

It all started with Colette for me. Discovering an orange and cream Penguin ed. of The Vagabond in Alnwick’s Barter Books aged 14 got me hooked. Soon I was reading every Colette novel I could get my hands on, as well as her short stories and the superb biography by Judith Thurman.

The more Colette I read, the more I wanted to discover about the women living in Paris during her period. And so from Colette I learnt about Stein, and Djuna Barnes, and Bryher, and H.D, and all the women I’ve been talking about in this series.

Colette’s short-story The Hand is something I read as a teenager and it has always haunted me. It pops into my head all the time, the intense description of the hand, the move from joy to revulsion to submission.

When you read it, think on:

  • How does Colette communicate sensuality?
  • What do you think of her use of description?
  • How does she manage the transition from lust to disgust?
  • What is the significance of the young wife’s feelings at the end of the story?


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Modernist reading group: Bryher

After H.D last time, it makes sense to talk Bryher this week – her long-term partner. She’s really fascinating but very little known. If you have a chance to read her memoir The Heart to Artemis then I’d really recommend it. A great piece of travel writing, as well as a good history of the first few decades of the 20th century and exploration of Freud and psychoanalysis.

I found this poem in a Transition anthology in Shakespeare & Company when I went to Paris in 2014 and I absolutely love it.


If I am a needle on a disk,

got to play the record out,

got to go on,

whatever voices break across me

or what shadows,

knees or shoulders,

silverpoint the blackness;

got to play the record out

til I break or am lifted,

I don’t choose the sound I make,

you don’t choose the groove.


No good saying,

take a knife and cut me from the past.

If I am a needle on a disk,

I’m not the new record

nor the old silence.

There is nowhere that we join together


And it’s not your job to lift me at the finish.


Isn’t it lush?

Have a think about the use of the body, new technology, and who the poetic voice is addressing.

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Online modernist reading group: H.D

This fortnight we’ll be looking at H.D or Hilda Doolittle.

H.D was one of the original ‘imagist’ poems, as well as the author of the extraordinary novel Hermione. She called her daughter Perdita, fittingly.

Her memoir of Freud, A Tribute to Freud, is also well worth your time.

But today we’re looking at her poems, a selection of which are available online. I’d encourage you to browse around although would add that Apollo at Delphi is a favourite of mine.

Things to think about? H.D is an imagiste. That means trying to eschew techniques like metaphor or simile, to write the image of the thing. How does this affect the poetry? What do you think of it? Does she succeed?


You can read about the modernist women of Paris in my new book, available for Kindle.

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New book: …and Paris is my hometown

Exciting news!

As part of Sian’s Spike Island residency, she has published an eBook of biographical essays about the women of 1920s Paris.

It’s called …and Paris is my hometown

which is a Gertrude Stein quote.


The majority of the essays were published by The Heroine Collective throughout 2016 and Sian is very grateful to their lovely editor Kate Kerrow for contributing the Foreword to the collection. There are some extra exciting tidbits in the anthology though so it’s worth your time!

…and Paris is my hometown includes essays celebrating the life and work of Gertrude Stein, Colette, Sylvia Beach, Josephine Baker, Kiki de Montparnasse and many, many more.

Please purchase the book today.

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Online reading group: Till September Petronella

The second installment of our online reading group is from one of my favourite writers, Jean Rhys.

It’s the story Till September Petronella and, hurrah, I’ve found an online version for you to read in the London Magazine.

But if you can I recommend you buy or borrow a copy from the library because all her short stories are such a delight.

Here are a few things to think about when reading Jean Rhys…

How does she explore being an outsider?

How does she portray power relations between men and women?

What importance do clothes have in the story?

What themes do you find interesting in the story?

Think about Rhys’s style – how does she use language?

Read the story now

We’ll have an online discussion on Twitter and Facebook at midday on 2nd February using the tags #modernistwomen and #petronella – see you then!

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Online reading group: Ada

How is everyone getting on with reading Ada?

Fancy making this online reading group a bit more dynamic?

We’ll host a live Twitter chat at 12pm on Thursday 19 January. 12pm GMT.

The hashtag will be #modernistwomen #ada

And it’ll kick off on Sian’s Twitter handle, @sianushka

All you need to do to join in is use the tag or @ sian in with your thoughts and reflections on Ada.

We want to know what you liked – or didn’t like – about it. Whether this is your first experience reading Stein or if you’re an old fan. What you think of her use of repetition. What you think about its subject. What you think Stein is trying to say. And why she’s trying to say it.

Don’t have Twitter? Don’t panic!

We’ll create a post on the BWLF Facebook page that you can leave your comments on. And if you don’t have Facebook, then just comment on this blogpost at 12pm on Thursday.

As soon as the discussion is done, we’ll post another text to read, and re-convene for another chat a fortnight later.

Happy reading!

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