Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Ottawa Citizen acticle Jan 9

January 9, 2006

Nobel-prize nominated poet remembered for his pizazz
Canadian wordsmiths, justice minister attend sombre Layton memorial

Irving Layton was celebrated at his funeral yesterday for his bold verses and promotion of Canadian poets, including himself.
Photograph by : Richard Arless Jr., The Montreal Gazette

William Marsden, The Montreal Gazette; with files from The Canadian Press
Published: Monday, January 09, 2006

MONTREAL - Irving Layton, one of Canada's greatest and most prolific contemporary poets, was celebrated at his funeral yesterday for his flamboyant creativity, bold verses and unflinching promotion of Canadian letters -- and of himself.

The funeral was an uncharacteristically sombre affair for a man who was -- and will continue to be in verse -- so powerful and boisterous a voice.

Other than a recitation of kaddish -- the Jewish prayer for the dead -- the funeral had little religious content, befitting an irreverent artist whose spiritual home was verse.

Canadian poets were dominant speakers, beginning with Samantha Bernstein, Layton's daughter by his fourth wife and one of his four children.

She opened the funeral by reading a poem she wrote to her father in 2002.

It was a poem about reading Layton's poetry, making light of his often wordy, encyclopedic style and his need to assault the stiff sensitivities of Canadian society.

"I read four poems and look up six words/ Two of them are not in my dictionary/ With gusto he pissed people off."

"He was like a boy, he was my wild, peculiar boy," Anna Pottier, Layton's fifth wife, said after the service at a west-end funeral home.

Layton, who died Wednesday at age 93, was known by some as provocative and abrasive, but Pottier spoke of the man who playfully tried to swipe bagels from a bakery and saw hope in blades of grass poking through cracks in sidewalks.

Layton died in a long-term care facility after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer's disease.

Pottier, who separated from Layton after his diagnosis in 1995, said it was hard to see him go downhill.

"To have watched a mountain be reduced to grains of sand -- it was beyond me," she said.

Author of more than 50 books of poetry, Layton was named to the Order of Canada in 1976, held several university posts and was nominated for the Nobel Prize for literature in 1982.

Federal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, who addressed the mourners at the funeral, later invoked Layton's "transformative impact" on the lives of Canadians and his outrage at injustice.

Cotler, who met Layton when the poet taught him in Grade 7, credited the poet with teaching him "how to think."

"I learned how to struggle for justice, and the only way you can do that is by struggling against injustice," he said.

"Irving Layton felt the injustice around him. His poetry was a means of conveying that message of injustice and mobilizing us in that struggle."

He described him as "a voice for the voiceless."

Media mogul Moses Znaimer, who also had Layton as a Grade 7 teacher, saw him then "as a rock star."

Znaimer described him as a man who was willing to "play the role of a poet, a man who was willing to fuse his personality with the work.

"He realized you could teach with celebrity and glamour and move people not only by the words, but by the force of your personality."

Znaimer said Layton drew criticism for his showmanship in the public eye but suggested his flamboyance made him a trailblazer for the celebrity-fixated society of the future.

Poet and singer Leonard Cohen, looking quietly sartorial in a light grey peaked cap and a long brown coat with a fur collar, said to subdued laughter among the 250 mourners: "Irving would be very annoyed if there were this many people here and none of his poems were read."

Noting that Layton will continue to live in his poetry, he recited a Layton poem, The Graveyard, about the regenerative capabilities of opposing forces.

"He is our greatest poet," Cohen said afterward. "Our greatest champion of poetry and these lines will endure and there is no sadness, no lamentation, no sorrow, no regret at this moment because that which Irving loved the best, which was his work, will survive him.

"There is no doubt generations to come will learn these verses and they will transcend any positions, any political strategies, any literary strategies. They're here, they're written in stone and they'll be read for a long, long time."


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