Thursday, January 05, 2006

90 Minutes Live clip Jan 4

Irving Layton: 'Poet physician'- film clip from the CBC Archives

Medium: Television
Program: 90 Minutes Live
Broadcast Date: Jan. 30, 1978
Host: Peter Gzowski
Guest(s): Irving Layton
Duration: 4:50

Irving Layton: 'Poet physician'Famous and controversial Montreal poet Irving Layton referred to himself as a prophet and physician. Formally, he "prophesied" as a York University professor and Jewish parochial high school teacher to Leonard Cohen and Moses Znaimer. Informally, he advised aspiring poets including mentoring his last of five wives, who was also a poet. And he claimed to be able to heal the nation's ills as a sort of poet "physician."

Layton was an intensely passionate man and felt blindly drawn to women. "I am their slave, their man Friday." This gave him a public image as a "sex-crazed lecher," which he attempts to dispel in this 1978 interview with Peter Gzowski. Layton explains the lecherous reputation is fuelled by his erotic poetry, for example with his poem Insomnia: "After the bath/ You lay on the bed/ Exposing layers/ Of beautiful washed skin..."

Layton was just as passionate politically, poking at the "clipped, tortuous" bourgeois in his prose. He believed his passion set him aside from other Canadian poets and described himself as the "hot-blooded Jew cavorting in the Canadian drawing room, kicking out the windows to allow fresh air to enter."

Clip note: The woman seated next to Layton is Judy LaMarsh, political pundit and national health and welfare minister from 1963 to 1965.


• Irving Layton was born Israel Lazarovitch on March 12, 1912, in Romania. He moved with his parents to Montreal before his first birthday.
• Layton grew up in Montreal's then-poor St. Urbain Street neighbourhood in a time when racism toward Jewish immigrants was prevalent.
• As a child, he was nicknamed "Nappy" — after the pugnacious Napoleon — for relentlessly fighting bigotry.
• Layton was 13 when his father died in 1925. He sold goods door-to-door to help support his mother and sisters.
• Layton recalled the impact of listening to his English teacher reading a Tennysonian ballad. "I'd never heard the English language so beautifully read, so powerfully rendered." In his lifetime, Layton's dramatic poetry readings were often recorded.
• In his final years at Montreal’s Baron Byng High School, Layton was labelled a threat to the administration and they expelled him for fiercely debating "radical" ideas.
• In 1939, he graduated with an agriculture degree.
• In 1942, Layton joined the Canadian army for one year.
• His extensive bibliography includes about 50 volumes of poetry and fiction.
• Layton erratically penned his first major poem The Swimmer at a Montreal restaurant in 1944. He grabbed the waitress's pen and scribbled the poem on the spot. He said this moment made him realize he had joined the ranks of poets.
• Layton was appointed an officer of the Order of Canada in 1976 — an addition to his list of prestigious awards.
• Layton married five times. He said he pitied, rather than loved, his first wife, Faye Lynch. With his second wife, Betty Sutherland — a successful painter and poet — Layton had two children, Maxwell and Naomi. His third wife, Aviva Cantor, was an artist who loved books. Layton and his fourth wife, Harriet Bernstein, who was once his student, had a child, Samantha. Bernstein's wealthy Toronto family inspired his poem The Gucci Bag. Layton separated from his fifth and final wife, Anna Pottier, in the mid-1990s.


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