Saturday, January 07, 2006

Maudlin, Clunky Verse, blog entry, Jan 5 06
January 5, 2006

Irving Layton dies, ‘world’ mourns

Can we please stop pretending every Canadian who picks up a pencil is a genius?

Irving Layton, boring Canadian poet, has died at 93. Sympathies to Mr. Layton’s friends and family, but if you didn’t know Layton the man, then you probably shouldn’t be grieving for Layton the poet. He wrote maudlin, clunky verse that was sometimes snobbish, occasionally weepy, and always outdated. It’s almost as if he had never read a poem published after 1890, or any of the moderns, and blithely went about re-inventing his own inferior modern style about 30 years too late. Yet the Star calls him a ‘trailblazer.’

Before Layton, Canadian poets tended to be regarded as tweedy romantics, celebrating nature in the Victorian tradition. Layton changed all that. His poetry owed more to his childhood experience of his acid-tongued mother and the verbal combativeness of the Jewish immigrant community in Montreal than it did to Longfellow or Wordsworth. He was also the first Canadian literary figure to use the media as a vehicle of self-promotion.

Holy literary cliches. A break with Victorianism, acid-tongued mothers, self-promotion in the media. You can read about his pioneering use of socialist politics as a poetic accessory and his “anti-bourgeois attitude,” too. Did Layton “drag Canadian poetry, kicking and screaming, into the 20th ceutnry” as someone said in the Gazette’s obit, or into the 19th? Does anyone believe he would ever have been published or taken seriously outside of Canada?

Maybe Canada’s nanny state and perpetual identity crisis just don’t breed good artists. Maybe the showering of money and laurels all over the most mediocre of Canadian talents has created an atmosphere that’s actually hostile to fresh, innovative art.


1. A little shortsighted, no? Maybe you should turn down the Coldplay on your I-Pod, and go read some poetry before you make silly statements such as this.

Comment by Jack Ruttan — January 6, 2006


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Irving Layton was one of Canada's greatest poets and an amazing person. He was the Beethoven of
20th century Canada.

12:04 AM  

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