Monday, January 09, 2006

Funeral Coverage, The Toronto Star, Jan 9 06

Literate farewell for Irving Layton
Poet eulogized as `audacious and steadfast'
Memorial mixes readings, laughter and reminiscence
Jan. 9, 2006. 10:26 AM

MONTREAL—Irving Layton's funeral was a little like his life: passionate, ribald, laugh-out-loud funny, with the faintest whiff of sadness.

In a remarkably lighthearted ceremony, in which Beethoven's Ode to Joy played not long before Layton's body was wheeled out in an enormous white casket, a small cadre of Canadian poets, politicians and celebrities sang the praises of the famously cantankerous writer. Layton died Wednesday at 93.

"What happened between Irving and me is between us and doesn't bear repeating," said Leonard Cohen, in a rusty and morose baritone. "But what does bear repeating, and will be repeated, are his words."

Cohen went on to read "The Graveyard" from A Wild Peculiar Joy, one of Layton's collections of poems.

Media mogul Moses Znaimer officiated at the ceremony before several of Layton's children and ex-wives (he was married five times), as well as friends, well-wishers, fans, students and journalists.

"He was willing to play the role of the poet," Znaimer recalled from the funeral home podium.

"He showed that you could teach people not just with words but with a force of personality. I learned a lot from that."

Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler, whom Layton taught at Montreal's Herzliah High School, remembered the poet as a "teacher, mentor, colleague and friend," a "profoundly Jewish but not religious" man who was constantly "railing against injustice" in terms that approached the biblical.

"Jeremiah must have looked and sounded like Irving Layton," Cotler said.

Samantha Bernstein, Layton's 24-year-old daughter, read a poem she wrote three years ago. Titled "Layton, Irving," it described how she came to know her father through an encyclopedia entry. "There you were, between laxative and Lazarus," she read, eliciting laughter.

Bernstein came to know Layton only at 16. Before that, she said, her mother would urge her to read Layton's books to find out about her father. "I got to know him through his prefaces," she said. "He spent a lot of time trying to figure out how I was like him" once they met.

Bernstein is studying creative writing at York University, where her father once taught.

Another speaker, poet David Soloway, remembered how Canadian literati had a certain disdain for Layton.

"Can Lit tried to bury him before his time," Soloway said. "He wanted greatness to emerge from the swamp of mediocrity. He was flamboyant, audacious, and steadfast. He will survive those who survive him."

Cohen, Znaimer and Cotler were among the pallbearers. As they wheeled the coffin into the back of the hearse, Anna Pottier, who described herself as Layton's "fifth and final wife," broke into tears. Pottier and Layton had been together from 1980 to 1995, and remained close after their separation.

"We were married somewhere over the Atlantic" on a flight to Rome, she recalled yesterday.

Pottier said their separation was as uncharacteristic as their marriage, with Layton urging her to move on in the mid-'90s. His mind was slipping, Pottier said, remembering how painful it was to see Alzheimer's erase his memories. "It was coming for a long time, but the finality ... it's a kicker," Pottier said.

"He had a huge life, an enormous life."


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