Wednesday, January 04, 2006

How to post your memories

To post your memories of Irving Layton, please do the following:

  • please go the bottom of the post and click on the COMMENTS link.
  • this will open up a comments window - please post your memory here
  • It will ask you to either log in or choose ANONYMOUS comment to post (you can post your name and city in the actual message itself)
Thank you


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Irving Layton granted me an interview in 1985 or so and I have the cassette. I hope to share his comments with everyone. Michael Collins 905-680-5252

4:50 PM  
Blogger Sean said...

RIP Mr Layton - you were so sharp, but you so kindly put word to word.

4:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was searching for notices of Irving's passing and there were 53,000 entries under Irving Layton Montreal using google. i doubt if there are many entries that don't deal with the poet by that name. Michael collins

5:04 PM  
Blogger Bruce Meyer said...

When Brian O'Riordan and I arrived at Leonard Cohen's apartment to do an intervieew with him that Layton had set up, one of the first things that struck us about the singer's Montreal flat was the presence of Layton icons.

The top of the hot water tank in the corner of the kitchen bore the bronze bust that appears on the cover of Irving's Selected Poems. On top of a protruding electric socket sat a pen sketch of Layton by Mort Rosengarten. I remember a smile appearing on Cohen's face when I pointed out to him that he associated Irving with hot water and electricity. Cohen replied "he's my teacher." That's high acclaim for any poet to accord another poet.

Earle Birney showed me a picture that was taken on April 23, 1957, the day that Let Us Compare Mythologies appeared in print. The photo of Birney, E.J. Pratt, a chubby young Leonard Cohen and a robust, boxer-like Layton, was snapped at 3:45 p.m. that day in front of Diana Sweets on Toronto's Bloor Street by the a woman who had been judged by the four poets to be the best looking female on the avenue. I always loved that photo (now in the possession of Greg Gatenby) not only because it marks the emergence of Cohen as a poet (standing beside a proud poetic papa, Layton)but because it was snapped the moment I was being born about a mile away in TGH.

To have known Irving Layton was to have shaken hands with someone who possessed the voice of a prophet: he was not always correct in what he prophesied, but nonetheless one listened because his voice contained the roar of the divine, the energy of a pillar of fire and the thunder of a storm on a mountain top.

I got to know Irving Layton when he was Writer-in-Residence at the U of Toronto (I'd met him once before at a reading at Jewish Community Centre on Bathurst where he proclaimed that because he'd been born circumcised he must be the long awaited Messiah of the Jewish faith). He'd written about the passion of suffering, the courage to stand up and celebrate life in the face of an abominable history, and he impressed me as someone who knew what it was to be lionesque, mane and all.

He was someone I drank with, sang with, shared poetry with. He was a fighter, not of the body as some such as Souster have often compared him to, but a fighter of the spirit. His birth name was Lazarovitch, Lazarus, someone who had looked into the very heart of death and had come back with a message of life "to tell you all, I shall tell you all..."

Death may have silenced his bodily voice, but not the power of his song. He knew that death would not silence his song. That is why he was so fiercely determined to be a poet, and to offer poetry to others and encourage it wherever he could as a teacher, a performer, a bard and, yes, a prophet. He realized that all of us suffer the necessity of life, and he showed us the path to the necessity of celebration.

I shall miss the man who could laugh deeply, anger darkly, roar eloquently and whisper passionately. But I am glad that I have his poems. They are fine works, and they are fine expressions of life.

I hope everyone will celebrate the life of Irving Layton. It was, after all, a dance, a jig executed not by a tall man, but by a determined celebrant of breath itself.

5:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I first became enamoured of Irving Layton's poetry in 1989, when I was a Grade 13 student in Ottawa, Ontario. I had already begun to develop a real taste for poetry and the love affair I have had with it since began in earnest after I wrote an essay for my English Literature class about Layton's poem "Mahogany Red."

I was fortunate to have been part of his audience on two occasions when Layton was in Ottawa giving public readings. One was at the National Library in 1989 and the second was a few years later at the now-defunct Magnum Books on Wellington Street in Ottawa's Westboro neighbourhood. His performance both times instilled in me the importance of developing a presence on stage when reading one's poetry to an audience.

I had the great fortune to share a meal with Irving Layton and his wife Anna in December 1993, when the University of Ottawa professor and poet Seymour Mayne arranged a day trip to Montreal for the students in his Third Year Poetry Workshop. He kindly took a few moments to read the poems of a young writer, and made brief notes on my proferred pages. One of my classmates, Alexander Monker, snapped a photo of us at the moment Layton took hold of my arm and quietly assured me of my talent as a poet. Unfortunately the photo did not survive the developing process, but the memory remains.

I lost my grandmother to "old age" and the onset of dementia this past March when she was just months shy of her 90th birthday. Upon hearing of her passing from my relatives in New Jersey, the first thing that entered my mind was Layton's elegy for his mother, "Keine Lazarovitch: 1870 - 1959." I offer this fragment of the poem as it could have described my maternal grandmother to a proverbial "T":

When I saw my mother's head on the cold pillow,
Her white waterfalling hair in the cheeks' hollows,
I thought, quietly circling my grief, of how
She had loved God but cursed extravagantly his creatures.

For her final mouth was not water but a curse,
A small black hole, a black rent in the universe,
Which damned the green earth, stars, and trees in its stillness
And the inescapable lousiness of growing old . . .

His poetry polarized his readership, but it never made apologies, nor, in my mind, was an apology required.

Thank you, Irving, for everything.

- Victoria Vernell, Ottawa, Ontario

6:49 PM  
Anonymous stephen bernhut said...

The matter of my pride in being forever a Montrealer is based, in part, on the fact that Irving Layton is also a Montrealer. I admire him for the lust and robustness that he had for all forms, and above all, for living. His spoken and written words always seemed to boost this country's pulse, and indeed to give it one. His poems and his life are a magnificent legacy.

My sympathy on your loss.

Stephen Bernhut

1:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

my regrets max , with warm memories of our plasticine kindergarten car days to wandering through and around the old cote st. luc house and visiting at the somerled apt. your father's presence was intimating and full of mystery. regards dean price.

9:37 PM  

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