Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A Comet, Concordia University Journal, Jan 12 06

Concordia University Journal article
Great Canadian poet Irving Layton dies at 93
by Barbara Black

Esteemed poet and former Concordia professor Irving Layton died on Jan. 4.

Poet, teacher and incandescent public personality Irving Layton died Jan. 4 at the age of 93. Recent tributes have hailed him as a Canadian literary icon. His funeral was attended by Leonard Cohen, Irwin Cotler and Moses Znaimer, among others.

Layton lit up the timid, tweedy literary scene in the 1960s like a comet. His sexual frankness shocked and delighted the Canadian public, who looked forward to his appearances on television, yet much of his work is lyrical and contemplative.

A Montrealer from infancy, he had strong connections with Concordia throughout his life. They go back to 1950, when he started teaching English part-time at Sir George Williams University. He continued to teach until 1964, and taught for another term at Concordia in 1978.

He was presented with an honorary degree in 1976, and served as writer in residence in 1989. In 1988, the English Department inaugurated the Irving Layton Award for Creative Writing, and gives it annually to an outstanding student.

Retired English professor Henry Beissel, himself a poet, was a good friend. Beissel said from his home near Ottawa that Layton “was a man engaged in his craft who worked hard at it.

“In fact, his willingness to leap into the dark may be his biggest contribution. He was a passionate man who never shied away from a fight, never tired of haranguing audiences that poetry is central to our culture.” Beissel said, Layton was extremely generous to his students.

As early as 1964, Sir George Williams University started to acquire material from Layton, and this continued over the years, largely under the direction of librarian Joy Bennett. Exhibits of Layton materials have been mounted in the Concordia libraries.

The above photo of Irving Layton was taken at the Loyola Faculty Club on March 1, 2001, when he attended a reception to acknowledge the transfer of some of his writing materials to the Concordia Libraries. His desk was acquired by Concordia’s Institute for Canadian Jewish Studies in 2000.

- Barbara Black


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