Thursday, January 05, 2006

Globe "Conversations" continued - Jan 5

Wayne Smith from Kingston, Canada writes:

I first heard Irving Layton read at York University many years ago. He looked like Moses! Indeed, many would have considered him a Moses wholed us out of the wilderness of dreary and boring poetry we were forced to recite in high school. Here was a passionate man who was absolutely
convinced of his ability to change people by offering up his unique
vision of life and the universe. This is what I wanted to do with my
life! Of course, I chose banking for a career but I never forgot that
experience. I continue to read Poetry and attend readings sponsored by
local bookstores. It continues to surprise and amaze me. Layton, like
poetry ,will live forever,

* Posted Jan. 5, 2006 at 9:57 AM EST

Michele Rackham from Ottawa, Canada writes:

I heard the news this morning while I was reading the guide to the Layton collection, which I had planned to visit tomorrow at Concordia University. A chill trickled down my spine as, lifting my eyes from the page and focusing on the radio, the broadcaster announced the loss of a great poet, Irving Layton.For me, it marked the end of an era: Sutherland, Dudek, Layton... all gone now. May they rest in peace. May their poetry live on!

From "Whatever Else Poetry is Freedom"(1958)

So whatever else poetry is freedom.Let

Far off the impatient cadences reveal

A padding for my breathless stilts.Swivel,

O hero, in the fleshy groves, skin and glycerine,

And sing of lust, the sun's accompanying shadow

Like a vampire's wing, the stillness in dead feet --

Your stave brings resurrection, O aggrieved king.

* Posted Jan. 5, 2006 at 10:16 AM EST

Lawrence Chanin from Canada writes:

Irving Layton was Canada's greatest poet. He will be truly missed. May he rest in peace.

Irving Layton was a prophet of sexuality in an era of puritan repression; an eclectic genius in a time of stifling conformity; a poet who weaved reality and truth with brilliant imagery when hypocrisy reigned; a man of courage, passion and vision when Canadians were cowed by authoritarian fears; a great poet who proved poetry could be not only beautiful and profound, but also fun, liberating and inspirational.

Canada needs a poet of Irving Layton's caliber now more than ever.

* Posted Jan. 5, 2006 at 11:48 AM EST

Orest Slepokura from Strathmore, Canada writes:

October 10, 1985, Layton sent his biographer Elspeth Cameron
a letter describing Cameron "as a class-conscious snob... the living symbol of
everything I've ever loathed about this country... you'll wish with every rotten
fibre of your being ... that you'd never seen the light of day but had run of
your mother's womb like piss from a whore's vagina." It came after other letters in which he hatefully cited her "WASP" origins. Our media tend to decry even faint whiffs of racist and sexist statements public figures utter. My hunch is the racist, sexist utterances the poet directed at Cameron will be ignored.

* Posted Jan. 5, 2006 at 1:14 PM EST

gordon foster from toronto, Canada writes:

As a fellow poet, I must say that I have not been greatly influenced by the man. Perhaps I need to read more of his works, but there is something so typically Canadian about Irving Layton that leaves me, how shall I put it, cold. Perhaps if I somehow have the good fortune to become enshrined by the Canadian academic and broadcasting establishments, I too could marry five times and father four children by the age of 93. I am wondering however why Mr. Layton was not nominated again for the Nobel prize in the succeeding twenty-four years. Is this somehow attributable to his condition as an Alzheimer's sufferer? My grandmother was not accurately diagnosed with that disease until after her passing at age 83, so I do at least congratulate Mr. Layton on his longevity, if not his literary pertinence. Now if only Mr. Cohen could be nominated for gravelly voiced singer-songwritng. I consider myself a fan and if any Canadian could represent us well at the Nobels, he could.

* Posted Jan. 5, 2006 at 3:16 PM EST

John Pepper from Toronto, Canada writes:

Well, Orest Slepokura, thanks to you at least, they won't be ignored altogether. I suppose the fifth paragraph of this article could be regarded as a pale hint of the sort of thing you're talking about. In obituaries the rule, still influential although not as strictly observed as it used to be, is "De mortuis nil nisi bonum": with regard to the recently deceased, you've got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative. No doubt in rejecting the Anglophile establishment Layton was mindful of T.S. Eliot, a very great poet whose distressing anti-Semitic streak was expressed not merely in private letters but in published poems. That Layton fell into the same trap deserves to be remembered as yet another sign that our human race has a ways to go yet and that hatred for the most part still breeds hatred.

Getting back to the text of the article -- Layton may have rejected Northrop Frye along with the previous generation of Canadian poets, but Frye himself was a critic, not a poet.

* Posted Jan. 5, 2006 at 4:00 PM EST


Blogger mallowry said...

There is more to understanding( especially among the youth today) Layton's revulsion of so-called WASPishness. First of all WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) is a misnomer, in my opinion. It should be WASPB (White Anglo Saxon Protestant Bourgeois), as the working class among the WASP rarely exhibits the stuffiness and general intolerance to which WASP refers.

Next, Layton lived in an era in Canada dedicated to the precepts of the British Empire, one of which, unfortunately, was, largely speaking, exclusion of non white , non Christian, and even, to a lesser extent, of white Christians of non British stock.

What did that represent in Canada? Two examples. The crime against humanity of the treatment of Japanese Canadians during W.W.II .
The assurance that jazz giant,
Duke Ellington, and his band, would have to lodge at a flop house in Toronto, instead of at the great Toronto hotels at which his band played.

What did it mean for Jews? Four examples. Jews would have to ask landlords if they rented to Jews. Jews were subject to Jewish student entry quotas at McGill University. Toronto Jewish student nurses were excluded from living in residence (according to an oral history account). In Winnpeg, Jewish medical students (as well as Ukrainian medical students) were not permitted to use the same cloakroom as their fellows ( (believes it or not, according to another oral history account).

Add to this a general aura of patronization of non British citizens and you get to understand the hatred of the mindset accumulated in Irving Layton which no doubt, he had a hard time ridding himself of , even when times improved.

I hope this puts more perspective in Layton's unleashing of a torrent of invective upon his unofficial biographer.

As a final comment, one had only to consult the leading article on on the announcement of Layton's death - a grotesque, literarily ignorant caricature of the man and his work - to see that some things have not changed.

1:34 PM  

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