Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Great Giant of the Human Spirit and Poem for Irving

Arthur Joyce said...

And so another great giant of the human spirit passes from this age of mediocrity and conformity. We will need his words now more than ever.
I was privileged to see Layton perform in Edmonton in November, 1985. The effect of his presence literally filled up the room, even though my then-wife and I were in one of the back rows. When he read the poem to his sister, 'Senile, My Sister Sings', there wasn't a dry eye in the house. When we met him afterwards for booksignings, he was warm and extremely approachable. I couldn't believe he was 74--he seemed more like 44.
Today I have Layton to thank for encouraging me to persist as a poet despite poetry's deepening marginalization in a media-saturated culture. The poem below was written for him while he was in hospital, a sad shadow of his towering former self. The tocsin, or bell ringing out in a public square calling us to worship or sound an alarm, to me is a fitting metaphor for this great poet. Rage on, Irving, wherever you are now...

Töcsin
—for Irving Layton
1912-2006

O, sick pecular joy
the Universe has in reminding you
just who’s boss
in the Big Picture,
the pathetic, drunken
illusion
of omnipotence
in a young body.

I wonder—
did some part of you
tire, suddenly retreat,
bone-weary
of sounding the töcsin
of humanity’s bestial nature?
(With apologies, of course,
to the beasts.)

Yet somehow
through it all—“a prophet
and the descendant
of prophets,”
holding a beacon
above the carnage—hoping
to lead someone
toward sanity
and light.

And now to think of you
in a hospital ward
fighting your way back
from the blow
that came out of the dark
and left white Mack truck stars
everywhere you look.

Blaze, blaze your glare
through hypnotic fog
rail and rant and praise again
sing and blare and shine again
in your vainglorious sun
O man with the carpet
of burning hair on his chest,

your head of lover’s fleece
crackling in the wind,
your eyes lancet stars
pointed at the sky
and daring down the cosmos
even as the slaughtering blade
is raised

©2004 Arthur Joyce

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