Friday, January 13, 2006

As Quirky as Prolific, New York Times, Jan 13 06

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/13/books/13layton.html
Irving Layton, 93, Canadian Poet With a Worldwide Following, Dies
By WOLFGANG SAXON
Published: January 13, 2006

Irving Layton, a Canadian poet as quirky as he was prolific, died on Jan. 4 in Montreal. He was 93.

The death was announced on his Web site, www.irvinglayton.com. Press reports from Montreal said the cause was Alzheimer's disease, diagnosed in 1994.

Foreign-born, though barely so, Mr. Layton became a national celebrity with an oeuvre of more than 40 volumes of verse and prose dating to the mid-1940's. He was both influential and controversial in Canada for decades. Admired by nobody more than himself, he also had his admirers in Europe and Asia, particularly in Italy and Korea.

In the United States his following was mainly confined to niches, like the school of Black Mountain poets, a leading forum of experimental verse, to whom he became a mentor. These poets, including Robert Creeley, could respond to Mr. Layton's idiosyncratic approach and use it in their innovative yet disciplined verse forms.

Mr. Layton was named to the Order of Canada in 1976, his country's highest honor.

Abrasive by nature, living an often flamboyantly unruly existence and seemingly enjoying his rambunctious reputation, he poured out verse that could be gritty, satirical, belligerent, acerbic or erotic. He described himself as "a quiet madman, never far from tears." Others thought of him as the combined Picasso and Mae West of Canadian poetry.

His air of self-importance and misogynous undertones put off some readers and may have contributed to his relative obscurity in the United States. But critics generally recognized him as a unique and earthy presence in Canadian letters who managed to bring poetry into contemporary affairs, and vice versa.

Irving Peter Lazarovitch - a surname later changed - was born in a small town in Romania and taken to Canada as an infant; the family eventually settled in Montreal. His first poem, dedicated to a teacher, was written in the sixth grade and included in a collection of love poetry published in 1986, "Dance With Desire." He graduated from Macdonald College in 1939 and, after serving in the Canadian Army artillery in World War II, received a master's degree from McGill University in 1946.

His first published volume of poetry was "Here and Now" in 1945. Subsequent volumes in the 1950's defined his voice as a literary figure, as did his voluminous correspondence with Creeley and the Canadian writers Cid Corman and Jonathan Williams. He lectured and taught as a professor and poet in residence at a number of Canadian colleges and universities into the late 1980's.

Mr. Layton was married five times, most recently to Anna Pottier in 1984. According to his Web site, his other survivors include his two sons, Max and David, and two daughters, Nao and Samantha.

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