Friday, January 06, 2006

Influential, Hindustan Times, Jan 6 06,00110004.htm

Influential Canadian poet Irving Layton dies at 93


Toronto, January 6, 2006

Irving Layton, one of Canada's most influential writers, whose powerful, sexually-charged poetry often shocked critics in the 1940s and '50s, died on Wednesday at age 93.

The professor, writer and poet had suffered from Alzheimer's disease since 1994, and died in a long-term care facility in his home town of Montreal.

Known as one of the most published writers in North America, his early poetry focused on love and sex, making staid Canadians blush at his sometimes bawdy subject matter, and prompting critics to attack him for his radicalism.

As a result, the larger-than-life Layton had as many enemies as friends, and was considered a fierce debater as well as an outspoken social and political critic.

With a reputation a a hell-raiser, he would often engage in public arguments with politicians, writers and friends in his crusade against Puritanism and uniformity, and became a regular on the CBC Television debate program Fighting Words.

Layton was named to the Order of Canada in 1976 and nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature in 1982. He published more than 40 books in his lifetime.

In the foreword to A Red Carpet for the Sun, which won Canada's Governor General's Award for literature in 1959, Layton offered insight into his view of the world when he wrote that "poetry, by giving dignity and utterance to our distress, enables us to hope, makes compassion reasonable."

Fellow Montrealer and poet, Leonard Cohen, a former student and protege of Layton's, once said: "I taught him how to dress, he taught me how to live forever."

Layton was born Israel Lazarovitch in the small town of Tirgul Neamt, Romania, in 1912. His family immigrated to Canada in 1913 and he grew up near St. Urbain Street in Montreal, the same Jewish neighborhood that novelist Mordecai Richler made famous in many of his works.

After a stint in the Canadian Army during World War Two, Layton completed his graduate work at Montreal's McGill University in 1946, and went on to teach for many years.

He was at his most prolific in the 1970s and 80s, publishing a book almost every year.


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