Wednesday, January 04, 2006

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CBC.ca Montreal article Jan 4

Poet Irving Layton dies
Last updated Jan 4 2006 09:19 PM EST
CBC News

Canada's enfant terrible of poetry, Irving Layton, died Wednesday in a Montreal care facility where he had been living since 2000.

The 93-year-old poet had been suffering from Alzheimer's Disease.

"[His] poems are astonishing," McGill University professor Brian Trehearne told CBC News in an earlier interview. "These are poems that rival anything anyone in the world has ever written."

Layton had said he first fell in love with poetry in Grade 10 upon hearing his English teacher, Mr. Saunders, read Alfred Tennyson's The Revenge: "I'd never heard the English language so beautifully read, so powerfully rendered, and I remember sitting quietly in my seat listening enraptured as the sounds filled the room."

Born in the small Romanian town of Tirgul Neamt in 1912 to Jewish parents, Layton emigrated with his family to Canada in 1913, settling in Montreal, where he grew up in a poor neighbourhood around St. Urbain Street, the same stomping grounds of novelist Mordecai Richler.

Layton spent much of his career as a teacher, first at a parochial high school, later becoming an English professor at Sir George Williams University and York University. He was also poet in residence at the University of Toronto, and it was from his poetic pursuits that his fame arose. He published more than 40 books of poetry and prose in a career that spanned more than five decades.

Poet and singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen and TV magnate Moses Znaimer were some of his more famous students.

"I taught him how to dress, he taught me how to live forever," Cohen once said.

Irving counted poets Tennyson, Byron, Wordsworth and Walter Scott as influences, as well as D.H. Lawrence, Jonathan Swift and William Shakespeare.

His early poetry focused on sex and love, often written in frank language and shocking some critics.

"Sex was not talked about in polite company," explained Anna Porter of Key Porter Books. "People didn't like the idea of it being in books."

He joined the Young People's Socialist League for a short time during his 20s and held ardent debates with burgeoning politicians such as David Lewis, father of Stephen Lewis. He eventually enrolled in Macdonald College in 1934, graduating with a Bachelor of Science.

It was at the college that Layton's left-wing radicalism blossomed on the page, as he wrote a column for the student newspaper. Always ready for a rumble, Layton spent much time debating around the clubs and cafes of Montreal, eventually taking on the formidable Oxford-Cambridge debating team with a schoolmate and winning.

He enlisted in the Canadian army in 1942 and was given an honourable discharge a year later.


Irving Layton in an undated photo. (Roloff Beny/Library and Archives Canada)
Layton then became an editor of First Statement Press along with friends John Sutherland and Louis Dudek. The first book published by the press was Layton's Here and Now in 1945.

At the same time, the poet spearheaded a group of younger compatriots, along with his two friends, that fought for a Canadian voice in poetry, railing against the old British order.

He won acclaim for his first major poem, The Swimmer, in 1944. Two years later, he received his M.A.

Layton's star rose rapidly in the 1950s and '60s, particularly after the publication of 1959's A Red Carpet for the Sun.

Layton soon became a regular on the CBC-TV debating program Fighting Words, where he earned a reputation as a fierce debater.

He was named to the Order of Canada in 1976.

Layton is best-known for his rapier wit and his ongoing battle against uniformity and Puritanism. The force of his personality was irresistible, helping him woo five wives but leaving a trail of five divorces.

"He loved the relationship with women. He loved the emotional frisson and the energy that gave him to write his poetry," Brian Mansbridge, his biographer, told CBC Television.

Layton is survived by his four children.

Great Stage Presence (and Layton Poem)

by Victoria Vernell, Ottawa, Ontario
January 5, 2006

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

CBC News article Jan 4

Poet Irving Layton dies
Last Updated Wed, 04 Jan 2006 19:26:43 EST
CBC News

One of Canada's most famous poets, Irving Layton, died Wednesday in a Montreal care facility where he had been living since 2000.

* CBC ARCHIVES: Irving Layton: Poet physician

The 93-year-old poet had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

Layton had said he first fell in love with poetry in Grade 10 upon hearing his English teacher, Mr. Saunders, read Alfred Tennyson's The Revenge: "I'd never heard the English language so beautifully read, so powerfully rendered, and I remember sitting quietly in my seat listening enraptured as the sounds filled the room."

Born in the small Romanian town of Tirgul Neamt in 1912 to Jewish parents, Layton emigrated with his family to Canada in 1913, settling in Montreal, where he grew up in a poor neighbourhood around St. Urbain Street - the same stomping grounds of novelist Mordecai Richler.

Layton spent much of his career as a teacher, first at a parochial high school, later becoming an English professor at Sir George Williams University and York University. He was also poet-in-residence at the University of Toronto. However, his fame arose from his poetic pursuits. He published more than 40 books of poetry and prose in a career that spanned more than five decades.

Poet, singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen and TV magnate Moses Znaimer were some of his more famous students.

"I taught him how to dress, he taught me how to live forever," Cohen once said.

Irving counted poets Tennyson, Byron, Wordsworth and Walter Scott as influences, as well as D.H. Lawrence, Jonathan Swift and William Shakespeare.

He joined the Young People's Socialist League for a short time during his 20s and held ardent debates with burgeoning politicians such as David Lewis who would become leader of the federal NDP, father of Stephen Lewis. He eventually enrolled in Macdonald College in 1934, graduating with a Bachelor of Science.

It was at college that Layton's left-wing radicalism blossomed on the page, as he wrote a column for the student newspaper. Always ready for a rumble, Layton spent much time debating around the clubs and cafes of Montreal, eventually taking on the formidable Oxford-Cambridge debating team with a schoolmate and winning.

He enlisted in the Canadian army in 1942 and was given an honourable discharge a year later.

Layton then became an editor of First Statement Press along with friends John Sutherland and Louis Dudek. The first book published by the press was Layton's Here and Now in 1945.

At the same time, the poet spearheaded a group of younger compatriots, along with his two friends, that fought for a Canadian voice in poetry, railing against the old British order.

He won acclaim for his first major poem, The Swimmer, in 1944. Two years later, he received his MA.

Layton's star rose rapidly in the 1950s and '60s, particularly after the publication of 1959's A Red Carpet for the Sun.

He soon became a regular on the CBC-TV debating program Fighting Words, where he earned a reputation as a fierce debater. He was named to the Order of Canada in 1976.

Layton is best known for his rapier wit and his ongoing battle against uniformity and Puritanism. The force of his personality was irresistible, helping him woo five wives but leaving a trail of five divorces. He had four children.

Yahoo Canada.com article Jan 4

JONATHAN MONTPETIT 28 minutes ago

MONTREAL (CP) - Irving Layton, whose gritty, satiric and erotic poems left an indelible mark on Canada's literary landscape, died Wednesday. He was 93.

Diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 1994, Layton died in a long-term care facility surrounded by caregivers and long-time friend Musia Schwartz, said Lisa Blobstein, spokeswoman for the Maimonides Geriatric Centre. Blobstein said Schwartz told her that Layton had kept his sense of humour until the end.

A prolific writer, Layton published more than 40 books of poetry and prose over more than five decades, clawing his way to the top of the CanLit hierarchy.

"The poetry was the man, the man was the poetry," said McGill University English professor Brian Trehearne.

Trehearne wrote the introduction to Fornalutx, a collection of lesser-known poems by Layton.

"You always got the sense that Irving was performing himself," Trehearne said in an interview Wednesday night. "He had a very strong sense of himself and how he wanted to appear and what he wanted to show people."

Despite being nominated twice for the Nobel Prize, by the end of his life Layton had disappeared from university reading lists and bookstore shelves, a situation Trehearne calls "scandalous."

"He is badly neglected," said Trehearne, pointing out that until last year Layton had been out of print. "How could we let this happen."

Trehearne recalled a visit the poet made to his classroom in the early '90s, with students versed in feminist theory ready to give Layton - a self-confessed worshipper of women - a grilling.

But after reading a poem about his mother, "he had them eating out of his hand."

Magdalene Redekop, who teaches Canadian poetry at the University of Toronto, saluted Layton despite her beliefs.

"He was an extremely uneven poet, but at his best he was fabulous and would rank among the top poets in the world. . . . But he wrote some really lousy poems."

Among her favourite poems by Layton are A Tall Man Executes a Jig; A Cold Green Element; and Whatever Else, Poetry Is Freedom.

"Those are poems that even when I think about them now I get goosebumps. Those three are the kinds of poems that make your hair stand on end."

Redekop, who's now teaching a class on Canadian love poetry, says she had assigned one of Layton's poems to her students and then had a change of heart.

"I decided that I simply couldn't tolerate teaching it, that it made my stomach turn, it was so sexist. He was a profoundly sexist man, and relentlessly so. But for me as a feminist ... to concede the poems of his that are fantastic is something."

Layton was named to the Order of Canada in 1976, held several university posts as poet-or writer-in-residence and was nominated for a Nobel Prize in literature in 1982.

Among Layton's former students was Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, Blobstein said.

Layton was the first non-Italian to receive Italy's Petrarch Award for Poetry.

The poet died early Wednesday morning suffering from the late stages of the disease, said Blobstein.

Born
Israel Lazarovitch in Romania on March 12, 1912, Layton was the seventh and final child of Moses, a Jewish bookkeeper, and his wife Klara.

When Layton was a year old, the family emigrated to Canada, settling in a tough, multiethnic neighbourhood in Montreal.

Its mean streets later became the backdrop for many of his graphic, often bawdy poems.

He seemed to revel in his raucous reputation; the more critics sneered, the more provocative and abrasive he became.

"I am a genius who has written poems that will survive with the best of Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Keats," Layton declared in 1972.

Layton first made a name for himself writing for First Statement, a small Montreal-based literary magazine. But it wasn't until the publication of A Red Carpet for the Sun, which won a Governor General's Award in 1959, that his poetry gained widespread notoriety.

"He was as famous as Canadian writer could get at the time," Trehearne said.

Dispensing with what he called Canada's "puritanical" notion of verse, Layton's poetry often dealt with the violence embedded in everyday life and the implications of human freedom.

"He tell us we are free and he shows us what that means," said Trehearne. "And it means some very freighting things, because when human beings are free they can do some horrendous things to each other."

His first marriage in 1938, to Faye Lynch, ended in divorce in 1946. He then wed artist Betty Sutherland (actor Donald Sutherland's stepsister), with whom he had a son and daughter, Max and Naomi. That marriage lasted 14 years.

Layton's third wife was Aviva Cantor, an Australian writer who bore him a son, David, who went on to write 1999's Motion Sickness, a memoir of growing up with his volatile father.

In 1974, Layton took up with Harriet Bernstein, a student in his creative writing course at York University in Toronto. The couple had a daughter, Samantha, in 1981. That same year, the 69-year-old met 22-year-old Annette Pottier, who became his fifth wife and changed her name to Anna.

In 1995, the couple separated after Layton was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

Layton explained in a magazine profile that he thrived on emotional extremes and that gave rise to his art:

"I guess I have the fatality that makes me seek out trouble. Because it's the kind of trouble that leads to a poem. It's creative chaos. No one writes a poem unless he wants to get out of hell, but do you get into hell in order to write the poem or do you live the life that makes the poetry that gets you into hell?"

Canoe's Jam! Books article Jan 4

Canadian poet Irving Layton dies
By JONATHAN MONTPETIT

MONTREAL (CP) - Irving Layton, whose gritty, satiric and erotic poems left an indelible mark on Canada's literary landscape, died Wednesday. He was 93.

Diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 1994, Layton died in a long-term care facility surrounded by caregivers and long-time friend Musia Schwartz, said Lisa Blobstein, spokeswoman for the Maimonides Geriatric Centre. Blobstein said Schwartz told her that Layton had kept his sense of humour until the end.

A prolific writer, Layton published more than 40 books of poetry and prose over more than five decades, clawing his way to the top of the CanLit hierarchy.

"The poetry was the man, the man was the poetry," said McGill University English professor Brian Trehearne.

Trehearne wrote the introduction to Fornalutx, a collection of lesser-known poems by Layton.

"You always got the sense that Irving was performing himself," Trehearne said in an interview Wednesday night. "He had a very strong sense of himself and how he wanted to appear and what he wanted to show people."

Despite being nominated twice for the Nobel Prize, by the end of his life Layton had disappeared from university reading lists and bookstore shelves, a situation Trehearne calls "scandalous."

"He is badly neglected," said Trehearne, pointing out that until last year Layton had been out of print. "How could we let this happen."

Trehearne recalled a visit the poet made to his classroom in the early '90s, with students versed in feminist theory ready to give Layton - a self-confessed worshipper of women - a grilling.

But after reading a poem about his mother, "he had them eating out of his hand."

Magdalene Redekop, who teaches Canadian poetry at the University of Toronto, saluted Layton despite her beliefs.

"He was an extremely uneven poet, but at his best he was fabulous and would rank among the top poets in the world. . . . But he wrote some really lousy poems."

Among her favourite poems by Layton are A Tall Man Executes a Jig; A Cold Green Element; and Whatever Else, Poetry Is Freedom.

"Those are poems that even when I think about them now I get goosebumps. Those three are the kinds of poems that make your hair stand on end."

Redekop, who's now teaching a class on Canadian love poetry, says she had assigned one of Layton's poems to her students and then had a change of heart.

"I decided that I simply couldn't tolerate teaching it, that it made my stomach turn, it was so sexist. He was a profoundly sexist man, and relentlessly so. But for me as a feminist ... to concede the poems of his that are fantastic is something."

Layton was named to the Order of Canada in 1976, held several university posts as poet-or writer-in-residence and was nominated for a Nobel Prize in literature in 1982.

Among Layton's former students was Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, Blobstein said.

Layton was the first non-Italian to receive Italy's Petrarch Award for Poetry.

The poet died early Wednesday morning suffering from the late stages of the disease, said Blobstein.

Born Israel Lazarovitch in Romania on March 12, 1912, Layton was the seventh and final child of Moses, a Jewish bookkeeper, and his wife Klara.

When Layton was a year old, the family emigrated to Canada, settling in a tough, multiethnic neighbourhood in Montreal.

Its mean streets later became the backdrop for many of his graphic, often bawdy poems.

He seemed to revel in his raucous reputation; the more critics sneered, the more provocative and abrasive he became.

"I am a genius who has written poems that will survive with the best of Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Keats," Layton declared in 1972.

Layton first made a name for himself writing for First Statement, a small Montreal-based literary magazine. But it wasn't until the publication of A Red Carpet for the Sun, which won a Governor General's Award in 1959, that his poetry gained widespread notoriety.

"He was as famous as Canadian writer could get at the time," Trehearne said.

Dispensing with what he called Canada's "puritanical" notion of verse, Layton's poetry often dealt with the violence embedded in everyday life and the implications of human freedom.

"He tell us we are free and he shows us what that means," said Trehearne. "And it means some very freighting things, because when human beings are free they can do some horrendous things to each other."

His first marriage in 1938, to Faye Lynch, ended in divorce in 1946. He then wed artist Betty Sutherland (actor Donald Sutherland's stepsister), with whom he had a son and daughter, Max and Naomi. That marriage lasted 14 years.

Layton's third wife was Aviva Cantor, an Australian writer who bore him a son, David, who went on to write 1999's Motion Sickness, a memoir of growing up with his volatile father.

In 1974, Layton took up with Harriet Bernstein, a student in his creative writing course at York University in Toronto. The couple had a daughter, Samantha, in 1981. That same year, the 69-year-old met 22-year-old Annette Pottier, who became his fifth wife and changed her name to Anna.

In 1995, the couple separated after Layton was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

Layton explained in a magazine profile that he thrived on emotional extremes and that gave rise to his art:

"I guess I have the fatality that makes me seek out trouble. Because it's the kind of trouble that leads to a poem. It's creative chaos. No one writes a poem unless he wants to get out of hell, but do you get into hell in order to write the poem or do you live the life that makes the poetry that gets you into hell?"

Globe & Mail "Conversations" Jan 4th

1. v r from vancouver, Canada writes: Reading this news, I am bombarded by memories of high school. Memories of OAC English and Writer's Craft classes. While the news is sad, I am smiling. Rest in Peace Mr. Layton, and thank you.
* Posted Jan. 4, 2006 at 5:14 PM EST

2. Laura Dover from Calgary, Canada writes: Berry Picking (Irving Layton)

Silently my wife walks on the still wet furze
Now darkgreen the leaves are full of metaphors
Now lit up is each tiny lamp of blueberry.
The white nails of rain have dropped and the sun is free.

And whether she bends or straightens to each bush
To find the children's laughter among the leaves
Her quiet hands seem to make the quiet summer hush--
Berries or children, patient she is with these.

I only vex and perplex her; madness, rage
Are endearing perhaps put down upon the page;
Even silence daylong and sullen can then
Enamor as restraint or classic discipline.

So I envy the berries she puts in her mouth,
The red and succulent juice that stains her lips;
I shall never taste that good to her, nor will they
Displease her with a thousand barbarous jests.

How they lie easily for her hand to take,
Part of the unoffending world that is hers;
Here beyond complexity she stands and stares
And leans her marvelous head as if for answers.

No more the easy soul my childish craft deceives
Nor the simpler one for whom yes is always yes;
No, now her voice comes to me from a far way off
Though her lips are redder than the raspberries.

An INSIDER Edition subscriber
* Posted Jan. 4, 2006 at 7:16 PM EST

3. chantal - from Vancouver, Canada writes:

I read this headline too fast and thought it said that Jack Layton died at 93. I thought perhaps the stress of Harper's antics aged him with supernatural celerity and caused his sudden demise.
* Posted Jan. 4, 2006 at 7:28 PM EST

4. Brian Bell from Toronto, Canada writes: To this day (and I've had plenty) The Pole Vaulter is the most inspirational thing I have ever read. Thank you Mr. Layton.
* Posted Jan. 4, 2006 at 8:11 PM EST

5. Terry-Lynn Johnson from Thunder Bay, Canada writes:

I will not pretend to be familiar with Irving Layton's poetry, as I have had only brief introduction to him and have not spent much time in study of his lines. The tribute that I am able to give is to spend some quiet time over the next few days appreciating his verse and philosophies.

Poetry, by giving dignity and utterance to our distress, enables us to hope, makes compassion reasonable.

("Foreword," A Red Carpet for the Sun, 1959)
* Posted Jan. 4, 2006 at 8:51 PM EST

6. Robert Austin from Whitehorse, Canada writes:

An icon has been lost.But, don't forget, as Layton himself wrote,

"It's a kind of magic"

" I turned away and wept"

"and felt the rock move beneath my hand"

Thank you Israel Pincu Lazarovitch.
* Posted Jan. 4, 2006 at 9:18 PM EST

Globe & Mail article by S. Deveau Jan 4

By SCOTT DEVEAU
Wednesday, January 4, 2006 Posted at 6:48 PM EST
Globe and Mail Update

Canadian poet Irving Layton died Wednesday in a Montreal care facility where had been living since 2000.

The 93-year old poet, who was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature, had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease. At his death, he was surrounded by several caregivers and his long-time friend, Musia Schwartz at the Maimonides Geriatric Centre in Montreal.

For an in depth look at the poet's life and death, see Thursday's Globe and Mail.

Born in the small Romanian town of Tirgul Neamt in 1912 to Jewish parents, Mr. Layton emigrated to Canada in 1913. His family settled in Montreal, where he grew up a poor neighbourhood around St. Urbain Street.

His often boisterous behaviour and anti-bourgeois attitude earned him as many admirers as it did detractors, and his notoriety became legendary among Canadian poets.

In the 1930's, while a student at MacDonald College, his socialist writing led to him later being blacklisted from entering the U.S. for nearly 15 years.

In the 1940's, along with fellow Canadian poets John Sutherland, Raymond Souster, and Louis Dudek, Mr. Layton railed against the older generation of poets, including Northrop Frye. Their efforts helped define the tone of the post-war generation poets in Canada. They argued that modern poetry should set its own style, independent of the British style, and reflect the social realities of the day.

Though he spent much of his career as a teacher, first at a high school then as a political science professor at Sir George Williams University (now Concordia), York University, and lectured at a number of universities across the country, his true passion and fame arose from poetry.

Among his students were poet/songwriter Leonard Cohen and media magnate Moses Znaimer. Mr. Cohen was said of Mr. Layton: "I taught him how to dress, he taught me how to live forever."

His star rose dramatically in the early 1950's after the publication of a collection of poems called The Black Huntsmen. He became a staple on the CBC televised debating program Fighting Words, where he earned a reputation as a fierce debater.

Among his many awards during his prolific career was the Governor-General's Award for A Red Carpet for the Sun, the first of many to be produced for the publishing house McClelland & Stewart in 1959.

Mr. Layton was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1981, but eventually lost to Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

He was named to the Order of Canada in 1976.

Mr. Layton was married five times and fathered four children.

Vancouver Sun.com article Jan 4

Poet Irving Layton dies in Montreal at 93

Canadian Press
Published: January 4, 2006

MONTREAL (CP) - Irving Layton, whose gritty, satiric and erotic poems left an indelible mark on Canada's literary landscape, died Wednesday. He was 93.

Diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 1994, Layton died in a long-term care facility surrounded by caregivers and long-time friend Musia Schwartz, said Lisa Blobstein, spokeswoman for the Maimonides Geriatric Centre.

Blobstein said Schwartz told her that Layton had kept his sense of humour until the end.

A prolific writer, Layton published more than 40 books of poetry and prose over more than five decades, clawing his way to the top of the CanLit hierarchy.

He was named to the Order of Canada in 1976, held several university posts as poet- or writer-in-residence and was nominated for a Nobel Prize in literature in 1982.

Among Layton's former students was Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, Blobstein said.

Layton was the first non-Italian to receive Italy's Petrarch Award for Poetry.

The poet died early Wednesday morning suffering from the late stages of the disease, said Blobstein.

Born Israel Lazarovitch in Romania on March 12, 1912, Layton was the seventh and final child of Moses, a Jewish bookkeeper, and his wife Klara.

When Layton was a year old, the family emigrated to Canada, settling in a tough, multiethnic neighbourhood in Montreal.

Its mean streets later became the backdrop for many of his graphic, often bawdy poems.

He seemed to revel in his raucous reputation; the more critics sneered, the more provocative and abrasive he became.

"I am a genius who has written poems that will survive with the best of Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Keats,'' Layton declared in 1972.
© Canadian Press 2006

CTV.ca article Jan 4

Poet Irving Layton dies in Montreal at age 93

Updated Wed. Jan. 4 2006 8:29 PM ET

Canadian Press

MONTREAL — Irving Layton, whose gritty, satiric and erotic poems left an indelible mark on Canada's literary landscape, died Wednesday. He was 93.

Diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 1994, Layton died in a long-term care facility surrounded by caregivers and long-time friend Musia Schwartz, said Lisa Blobstein, spokeswoman for the Maimonides Geriatric Centre.

Blobstein said Schwartz told her that Layton had kept his sense of humour until the end.

A prolific writer, Layton published more than 40 books of poetry and prose over more than five decades, clawing his way to the top of the CanLit hierarchy.

"The poetry was the man, the man was the poetry,'' said McGill University English professor Brian Trehearne.

Trehearne wrote the introduction to Fornalutx, a collection of lesser-known poems by Layton.

"You always got the sense that Irving was performing himself,'' Trehearne said in an interview Wednesday night. "He had a very strong sense of himself and how he wanted to appear and what he wanted to show people.''

Despite being nominated twice for the Nobel Prize, by the end of his life Layton had disappeared from university reading lists and bookstore shelves, a situation Trehearne calls "scandalous.''

"He is badly neglected,'' said Trehearne, pointing out that until last year Layton had been out of print. "How could we let this happen.''

Trehearne recalled a visit the poet made to his classroom in the early '90s, with students versed in feminist theory ready to give Layton -- a self-confessed worshipper of women -- a grilling.

But after reading a poem about his mother, "he had them eating out of his hand.''

Magdalene Redekop, who teaches Canadian poetry at the University of Toronto, saluted Layton despite her beliefs.

"He was an extremely uneven poet, but at his best he was fabulous and would rank among the top poets in the world.... But he wrote some really lousy poems.''

Among her favourite poems by Layton are A Tall Man Executes a Jig; A Cold Green Element; and Whatever Else, Poetry Is Freedom.

"Those are poems that even when I think about them now I get goosebumps. Those three are the kinds of poems that make your hair stand on end.''

Redekop, who's now teaching a class on Canadian love poetry, says she had assigned one of Layton's poems to her students and then had a change of heart.

"I decided that I simply couldn't tolerate teaching it, that it made my stomach turn, it was so sexist. He was a profoundly sexist man, and relentlessly so. But for me as a feminist ... to concede the poems of his that are fantastic is something.''

Layton was named to the Order of Canada in 1976, held several university posts as poet- or writer-in-residence and was nominated for a Nobel Prize in literature in 1982.

Among Layton's former students was Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, Blobstein said.

Layton was the first non-Italian to receive Italy's Petrarch Award for Poetry.

The poet died early Wednesday morning suffering from the late stages of the disease, said Blobstein.

Born Israel Lazarovitch in Romania on March 12, 1912, Layton was the seventh and final child of Moses, a Jewish bookkeeper, and his wife Klara.

When Layton was a year old, the family emigrated to Canada, settling in a tough, multiethnic neighbourhood in Montreal.

Its mean streets later became the backdrop for many of his graphic, often bawdy poems.

He seemed to revel in his raucous reputation; the more critics sneered, the more provocative and abrasive he became.

"I am a genius who has written poems that will survive with the best of Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Keats,'' Layton declared in 1972.

Layton first made a name for himself writing for First Statement, a small Montreal-based literary magazine. But it wasn't until the publication of A Red Carpet for the Sun, which won a Governor General's Award in 1959, that his poetry gained widespread notoriety.

"He was as famous as Canadian writer could get at the time,'' Trehearne said.

Dispensing with what he called Canada's "puritanical'' notion of verse, Layton's poetry often dealt with the violence embedded in everyday life and the implications of human freedom.

"He tell us we are free and he shows us what that means,'' said Trehearne. "And it means some very freighting things, because when human beings are free they can do some horrendous things to each other.''

His first marriage in 1938, to Faye Lynch, ended in divorce in 1946. He then wed artist Betty Sutherland (actor Donald Sutherland's stepsister), with whom he had a son and daughter, Max and Naomi. That marriage lasted 14 years.

Layton's third wife was Aviva Cantor, an Australian writer who bore him a son, David, who went on to write 1999's Motion Sickness, a memoir of growing up with his volatile father.

In 1974, Layton took up with Harriet Bernstein, a student in his creative writing course at York University in Toronto. The couple had a daughter, Samantha, in 1981. That same year, the 69-year-old met 22-year-old Annette Pottier, who became his fifth wife and changed her name to Anna.

In 1995, the couple separated after Layton was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

Layton explained in a magazine profile that he thrived on emotional extremes and that gave rise to his art:

"I guess I have the fatality that makes me seek out trouble. Because it's the kind of trouble that leads to a poem. It's creative chaos. No one writes a poem unless he wants to get out of hell, but do you get into hell in order to write the poem or do you live the life that makes the poetry that gets you into hell?''

Determined Celebrant of Breath Itself

By Bruce Meyer, Toronto, Ontario
January 5, 2006

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.

For Irving Layton by Patrick Lane, March 5, 2005

For Irving Layton

By PATRICK LANE
Saturday, March 5, 2005 - Page R7

Irving Layton, one of Canada's greatest poets, resides at Maimonides Hospital in Montreal. He has long suffered from Alzheimer's disease. Though he doesn't write now, says Patrick Lane, "I feel sure he composes poems inside the quiet of his life. The poet Brian Brett said, 'Discipline is only in the long practice of curious desire.' Irving would have understood that." This photograph of Layton was taken in 1973.

Dear Irving:

1.

Maybe it's this letter is dead. I know you're not, but I
Expect to hear you're gone each time the day arrives. It's the stumble
Light makes, faces reaching out to us in the dark. We call
It waking up, unsure who we are in the false dawn.
The older I get the more confused I am. Dying seems
Such a simple thing. I'm amazed it takes most of us so long to get it right.
You live in time and the dead start to accumulate.
They're like trees I used to see in spring up the North Thompson
When the ice went out, the ones whose roots gave way to water.
Their falling was so long and slow, all whisper going down.
And then their rolling into the hook above Mad River
Where the rocks were. The trees hung up there, their bodies
For a season green among a hundred years of trees. Strange
How fir and spruce turn white from water. They're like the thoughts
The canyon has. Fear makes us brave, Irving. I'm not afraid any more.
The dark is just the need to make something out of nothing.
There are questions I could ask, but like old Socrates, they always
Lead to a kind of foolishness, ambition, pride, the ecstasy of sex, lists
That make no sense. Just words. Old Nietzsche had it almost right,
The part where the poet walks a wire above the street. I always
Thought it best to walk those wires in the dark. Seeing things
Have always made me fall. It's your snake keeps coming back
To me, its last silent scream. I'd seen the same in the hills above
The lakes, seen the wisps of grass in its mouth, the twists and turns
Of pain. I killed the first one I saw, thinking its suffering made easier
By death. But that's the thing a young man does to hide his fear.
Is that what transformation is? Tell me if you know.
I'm weary these days. There's a riddle in my skull and I was never
Good at riddles. Being born is enough to make a man wonder
What a meaning is. Maybe that's why I keep writing poems.
This letter like all the rest is full of questions. I'd send this to you
But what good would that do? I remember having coffee with you in 67
Up The Main while you talked about poetry. I didn't say a word.
Young men don't speak to heroes, especially the ones who talk
Of freedom in a poem. You and Yeats on your stilts. I keep
Trying not to lie, imagine butterflies and Buddhas, twist
And turn. You're not dead and so my grief is greater. The dead
Are breathless swimmers. Remember that night at York? Eli
Was talking poetry while you kept trying to get that girl
To go to the hotel with you. You never got the girl. I did later,
But I never told you. I loved your trying though and want to say
She was as marvellous as you imagined. Such breasts she had,
Such thighs. I was just young enough to interest her lust, that's all. But Irving, you showed a way for me to write myself toward a paradise
And though I never got there, still, it was all in the reaching.
I too have wanted to sing in the throat of a robin.
And though it is a furious path where black dogs howl
I walk it anyway. You told me that. I think you'd tell me now
If you could speak. The gods aren't dead, not yet, though
Their bodies lie in the huge rivers, stripped of their flesh,
While all about them is the great noise of the waters
As they take whatever they can reach to a darker sea.

2. I went out to Maimonides to see you after I wrote that poem.
In the hall I got confused and couldn't find your room.
I turned to a group of people sitting in easy chairs.
They were watching television with the sound turned off.
I asked them where I was going and they all turned at my voice
With the looks of the demented and deranged. Such smiles
They had. A little ashamed and as confused as I always am
I shrugged and stepped away and one old lady waved at me.
There was no waterfall of grief in her, just a simple joy
At being asked anything. Like Jarrell's cry of Change me, I
Saw what I might be and so waved back, a little foolish,
A little less ashamed. You were in the room in your chair,
staring across at a window that looked out, intent
On Montreal, just houses and apartment blocks, streets
And cars blinking through the rain. There were photographs
On the tables and on the walls, you with Leonard, and you
With your mother, a picture taken years ago when you
Were still your mother's son. You didn't look at me, just sat there
Staring at that pane of glass between you and whatever
World there is. I picked up your book and it opened to
Your poem, the one I loved when I was young. I remember
Promising myself that poem back in the Sixties and swore
I'd never lie, but like all young poets I failed at truth,
Thinking rhetoric an easier disguise. How quiet whispers are.
I think I told you I loved you. You just raised your hand
To your lips and stroked a knuckle across the place
Where words get made. They told me your skull still
Holds your body alive. You don't speak any more, your poems
All in your head. There must be such beauty there.
I read to you the words that started me
Down this long road of poetry. You said the death of your father
Sent you toward what you feared most. In the end
We all touch a knuckle to our lips. I made a whisper
Of your poems. That was enough. In the hall outside
I waved to the woman in the chair. She stared at me.
She had the look I've seen on every broken thing
I've touched, querulous, her eyes asking me who I was,
The sound turned off, the images flickering just beyond her.

Patrick Lane was born and raised in the mountains of the West and now lives near Victoria on Vancouver Island. He is the author of more than 25 books. His most recent this past year are Go Leaving Strange, from Harbour Publishing, There Is a Season -- A Memoir in a Garden, from McClelland & Stewart, and Breathing Fire 2, an anthology of young poets co-edited with Lorna Crozier, from Nightwood Editions.

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Thank you

Irving Layton passes today at 93

Irving Layton, one of Canada's most famous poets, passed away today in Montreal at age 93. I have been lucky enough to have spent time with him on a few occasions over the last few years and have felt incredibly blessed to have been able to do so. Here is his poem that speaks to me the most at this time.

The Swimmer, Irving Layton

Afternoon foreclosing, see
The swimmer plunges from his raft,
Opening the spray corollas at his act of war -
The snake heads strike
Quickly and are silent.

Emerging see how for a moment,
A brown weed with marvelous bulbs,
He lies immiment upon the water
While light and sound come with a sharp passion
From the gonad sea around the poles
And break in bright cockle-shells about his ears.

He dives, floats, goes under like a thief
Where his blood sings to the tiger shadows
In the scentless greenery that leads him home,
A male salmon down fretted stairways
Through underwater slums....

Stunned by the memory of lost gills
He frames gestures of self-absorption
Upon the skull-like beach;
Observes with instigated eyes
The sun that empties itself upon the water,
And the last wave romping in
To throw its boyhood on the marble sand,


The Swimmer, The Selected Poems, M&S: 2004


If you would like more information on the life and work of Irving Layton as well as the Globe & Mail's January 4th article:

University of Toronto Irving Layton Website
www.IrvingLayton.com
The Globe and Mail's article regarding his passing