William Carlos Williams and the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven

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Author: Ren Steinke
Date: Summer 2007
From: The Literary Review(Vol. 50, Issue 4)
Publisher: Fairleigh Dickinson University
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 838 words

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Kora in Hell , William Carlos Williams' luminous book of prose poems, fascinated me in itself when I first read it seventeen years ago. Then I discovered this review by the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven. At the time I'd never heard of her. A German migr, fashion avatar, poet, collagist, troublemaker, and perhaps the first American performance artist, the Baroness was one of those wildly flowering bohemians in the Greenwich Village hothouse of the late 1910s and early 1920s, most of whom are now lost to history.

I was in graduate school, reading dusty old copies of The Little Review when I came upon "Thee I Call Hamlet of the Wedding Ring." Just the opening is excerpted here, but the poem goes on for more than 11 riveting pages (and that is only Part I). The poem critiques with flourish: Williams' appearance ("you wobbly legged, business satchel-carrying little louse"), his crass idealization of "factory-girl America," his "sour apple-cider plus artificial bubble-chemical spunk," and his sexual potency. I'd never seen a review with so little pretence at objectivity (and I knew that in 1921 it was incredible that a woman had dared to write it), and I'd never seen a review in the form of a Dada poem. Now that I...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A181858370