Friday, January 06, 2006

For Irving, blog entry, Jan 5 06
posted by torontopearl at 7:20 PM, Toronto, Ontario
January 5, 2006
Rest in Peace, "Oiving"

I found out this afternoon that Canadian poet Irving Layton passed away yesterday at the age of 93 in Montreal. For the past number of years, he was suffering from Alzheimer's and living at the Maimonides Jewish Home.

Irving was a character, if ever there was one. He made friends -- Leonard Cohen; and he made enemies. He wrote poetry about life and sexuality, love and family, Judaism and God. Anyone who hovered on the literary threshold in this country knew the name Irving Layton.

I had the privilege to meet him and talk with him several times. He was writer-in-residence at the University of Toronto when I was a student, and I had a private session in which he assessed my poetry and other writing; I went to public readings of his; I even corresponded with his last wife on a couple of occasions. He stepped into my life -- or perhaps I stepped into his -- even if briefly, and left a lasting impression on me.

I wrote a slew of Irving-inspired poems back in the early to mid 1980s, and was fortunate to have one published a few years ago in Parchment ("For Irving Layton #2"), a Canadian Jewish literary journal.

He will be missed by countless students, countless critics and countless kindred spirits.

Irving Layton, rest in peace.

For Irving Layton #1

We are graced
the old man’s presence.

His eyes –
they gleam

His brow –
it furrows
and twitches

His hair –
white and
filigreed with
highlights of silver –
a dishevelled mass.

His voice –
clear, loud,
letting the words
string along
and flow from
his mouth
in a perpetual manner.

This man –
a shell
and a soul.
Indeed a fusion of
myth and reality.

It is to this person
that we look longingly
for a spark of
truth, knowledge and faith.
And it is he who
grants it to us –
via his words
of wisdom.

The old man –
a diviner in disguise.

For Irving Layton # 2

You speak to me of resonance
claiming that’s what my poetry lacks.
I sit there before you
and nod dumbly.

You speak to me of imagery
claiming that’s what my poetry emits.
I sit there before you
and smile weakly.

But then. . .
You speak to me of style
claiming that my poetry only manages
to denote what you consider to be
“a slice of life.”

You argue that it is not enough
to take events and throw them onto paper.
You tell me that I must blend
and shape them.
I sit there before you
and sulk quietly.

You speak to me of merit
claiming that’s what my gift
of a poem to you has.
I sit there before you
and laugh hysterically.

“What a liar!”

I get up and leave the room.


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