Sunday, January 08, 2006

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Irving Layton, not Kurt Cobain

By Devin Hiller

SLEEP WELL MR. LAYTON,

When I was in high school Irving Layton was equal to that of a rock star. Others viewed Kirk Cobain and Nirvana as their voice but for me Layton told me the truth. He showed me what it was to be a jew and to have a truely unique voice in the world.

Shalom Layton

40 Books of Poetry, Associated Press, Jan 5 06

Top Canadian poet Irving Layton dies at 93
1/5/2006, 6:59 p.m. ET
The Associated Press

MONTREAL (AP) — Irving Layton, a prolific writer and one of Canada's top poets, has died. He was 93.

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

Layton published more than 40 books of poetry and prose over more than five decades, making his way to the top of Canada's literary hierarchy.

Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotter said Layton "taught me how to think." Layton taught for many years. He held university posts as poet-or writer-in-residence and was nominated for a Nobel Prize in literature in 1982. Layton was named to the Order of Canada in 1976 — Canada's highest honor.

Born Israel Lazarovitch in Romania on March 12, 1912. His family migrated to Canada a year later, settling in a tough, multiethnic neighborhood 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 said in 1972.

His gritty, satiric and erotic poems often shocked critics in the 1940s and 1950s.

"He was as famous as a Canadian writer could get at the time," said McGill University English professor Brian Trehearne.

Layton was married five times, most recently to Anna Pottier.

Syracuse.com article, Jan 5 06

http://www.syracuse.com
Republished Associated Press article, Jan 5.

Yahoo Asia.com article, Jan 6 06

http://asia.news.yahoo.com/060105/ap/d8euqs8o0.html
Republished Associated Press article, Jan 5.

Funeral & Video Clips, CTV. ca, Jan 8 06

http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews
Updated Sun. Jan. 8 2006 7:40 PM ET
CTV.ca News Staff
Family, friends remember poet Irving Layton

Family and friends bid farewell to Irving Layton Sunday, remembering the poet as a gifted genius who evoked the harsh realities of life.

"There was Irving Layton, and then there was the rest of us," friend and one-time student Leonard Cohen said after the funeral.

"He is our greatest poet; our greatest champion of poetry. 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."

Layton had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease before he died Wednesday at the age of 93. His funeral was held in Montreal.

After he taught Cohen poetry, the two became very close friends. Other former students include broadcast leader Moses Znaimer and Liberal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, who both attended the funeral.

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

Over five decades, Layton published more than 40 books of poetry and prose, in the process writing such famous works as A Tall Man Executes a Jig.

He first gained prominence after the publication of his book A Red Carpet for the Sun, which won a Governor General's Award in 1959. Less than 20 years later, he was named to the Order of Canada.

His poems have been taught to students across the country, although until recently ,his work was largely out of print.

"He is badly neglected,'' McGill University English professor Brian Trehearne told The Canadian Press. "How could we let this happen?''

Many of Layton's poems depicted his love for women, often written in graphic, bawdy language. Some feminist scholars have found his poetry sexist.

Magdalene Redekop, who teaches poetry at the University of Toronto, said some of his poetry is incredibly powerful, but has reservations about Layton's opinion of women.

She decided not to assign one poem to her students because "it was so sexist," she told CP.

"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 born in a small Romanian town in 1912, under the name Israel Lazarovitch. His family immigrated to Montreal the following year.

He was nominated for the Nobel Prize for literature twice.

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

With files from The Canadian Press

Edmonton Journal article, Jan 8 06

http://www.canada.com/edmontonjournal
Republished Canadian Press article by N. Wyatt, Jan 8.

Montreal Gazette article, Jan 8 06

http://www.canada.com/montrealgazette
Republished Canadian Press article by N. Wyatt, Jan 8.

Star Phoenix, Saskatchewan article, Jan 8 06

http://www.canada.com/saskatoonstarphoenix
Republished Canadian Press article by N. Wyatt, Jan 8.

Montreal CJAD 800 News article, Jan 8 06

http://www.cjad.com
Republished Canadian Press article by Jonathan Montpetit, Jan 5.

Brooks Bulletin, Brooks, Alberta, article Jan 8 06

http://www.brooksbulletin.com/news/national_news.asp?itemid=47778
Republished Canadian Press article by Jonathan Montpetit, Jan 5.

Montreal 940 News.com article, Jan 8 06

http://www.940news.com/nouvelles.php?cat=23&id=10813
Republished Canadian Press article by Jonathan Montpetit, Jan 5

Maclean's.ca article, Jan 5 06

Republished Canadian Press article by Jonathan Montpetit, Jan 5

Vancouver Sun article, Jan 8 06

Republished Canadian Press article by N. Wyatt, Jan 8.

Winnipeg Free Press article, Jan 8 06

Republished Canadian Press article by N. Wyatt Jan 8.

Untamed Life Force, Hamilton Spectator, Jan 6 06

http://www.hamiltonspectator.com
Layton wanted us to be passionate about Canada
By Andrew Dreschel
January 6, 2006

Question: Why did the Canadian cross the road? Answer: To get to the middle of it.

I owe that throwaway line to a long interview I had with Irving Layton back in the late 1980s, several years before he was stricken with Alzheimer's disease, when his best books were still in print and the untamed life force that made him one of Canada's greatest poets was still coursing wildly through his veins.

I recalled Layton's little joke on my way into work yesterday, the news of his death in a long-term care home at age 93 tugging at my thoughts.

Frankly, I came to work intending to write about how the Conservatives have overtaken the Liberals in the polls but soon realized Layton's quip about the tepid temper of this country, which he delighted in calling a "nation of losers," would suffice.

The truth is, the death of a national poet is a far more significant milestone than the piddling ups and downs of any election campaign.

Though Canada has produced a fairly good crop of poets in modern times, Layton was someone very special indeed. He was a breed apart, as much media celebrity as brilliant wordsmith. During his poetic heyday, only his friend and fellow Montrealer Leonard Cohen rivalled him in both the public's eye and imagination.

That's because Layton was a theatrical force of nature. He transcended his own tremendous body of work and epitomized the wildly romantic image of the temperamental poet -- angry, reckless, always striving to shake people out of their complacency, always reaching for the stars of immortality.

Controversial and provocative with both the written and spoken word, Layton grappled with the great moral, cultural and political confusions of our times, savagely unleashing a prophet-like wrath on what he saw as the devaluation of love and the dehumanizing trends of the modern world.

But he was also -- joyfully, vigorously -- one of Canada's great erotic poets, a man who puckishly attributed the awakening of both his sexual and poetic impulses to his boyhood yearnings for Miss Benjamin, his Grade 6 teacher.

Born in Romania in 1912, Layton came to Montreal a year later with his parents. Neither his father, a small time cheesemaker, nor his dominating mother, who ran a small grocery store, wanted him to be a writer. But they didn't bank on his childhood encounter with his feminine muse.

Layton wrote that every woman he ever loved was a materialization of Miss Benjamin. And he wasn't shy about engraving -- eloquently, lasciviously, satirically -- his feelings for them in ink. With five wives and a procession of lovers, he had ample scope for expression.

Naturally, the bluestocking feminists, particularly the 1980s vintage, loathed his brazen masculinity, both on and off the printed page. The impenitent Layton merely scoffed that academics are incapable of understanding the active poetic temperament.

Besides, there was no denying the emotive power of his words.

At readings, even when he was well into his 70s, women plainly responded to his versifying and the accompanying power of his personality -- no mean feat for a short fat man whose most pleasing physical characteristics were his leonine mane of hair and penetrating eyes.

And if at times he seemed too much the blowhard, he was always a courageous one. Layton never minced words.

Being a Jew was central to his poetry and his world view. He maintained a simmering anger at Christianity, which he held indirectly responsible for the Holocaust through centuries of blaming Jews for crucifying Christ and sweeping the historical record of Christian persecutions under the rug.

More than once nominated for the Nobel Prize for poetry, his works have been translated into Russian, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Korean and Romanian. Sadly, though he wrote more than 50 books, they are hard to come by these days. That may change now that he is dead. Death has a way of reinvigorating appreciation and rejuvenating memory.

Whether Layton will achieve the immortality of the great poets he so mightily strove for is up to the ages. But to my mind, Leonard Cohen, years ago on a book jacket, bestowed on him the highest possible praise.

Cohen said he was working in a Montreal clothing factory when he first met Layton. He said he taught Layton how to dress. Layton taught him how to live forever.

Andrew Dreschel's commentary appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

adreschel@thespec.com 905-526-3495

Press of Atlantic City, NJ article, Jan 5 & 6 06

http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/news/world/story/3044698p-11738499c.html
Republished Associated Press article, Jan 5.

Funeral Coverage, Globe & Mail, Jan 8 06

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/
Sunday, January 8, 2006 Posted at 5:09 PM EST
Irving Layton remembered as iconic wordsmith
Leonard Cohen and Moses Znaimer among crowd at poet's funeral

Montreal — Irving Layton, who achieved an iconic status on the Canadian literary scene with his gritty poems, was remembered Sunday as a challenging yet inspiring wordsmith.

A crowd including poet and singer Leonard Cohen, media mogul Moses Znaimer and federal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler were among the mourners at his funeral in west-end Montreal.

They all recalled Layton as a teacher, friend and an artist who used his work to make people think about life's great issues.

Layton died Wednesday at the age of 93 in a long-term care facility. He had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

A prolific writer, he published more than 40 books of poetry and prose during more than five decades.

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

Funeral Coverage, CBC, Jan 8 06

http://www.cbc.ca/story/canada/national/2006/01/08/layton-funeral060108.html
Last Updated Sun, 08 Jan 2006 16:26:29 EST
Family, friends mourn poet Irving Layton

Legendary bad-boy poet Irving Layton was remembered in Montreal Sunday as a maverick genius by friends and family who gathered to lay him to rest.

Layton, 93, died Jan. 4 at a Montreal residence for seniors; he had been battling Alzheimer's for some time.

One of the last photos taken of poet Irving layton, who died at age 93. (CP Photo)

The author of more than 40 books of poetry and essays is widely considered one of English Canada's pre-eminent poets.

Many of Layton's former students attended the funeral, including Federal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, media innovator Moses Znaimer and singer and poet Leonard Cohen. They all spoke at the gathering.

"That which Irving loved the best, his work, will survive him, 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," Cohen said in his eulogy.

* FROM JAN. 4, 2006: Poet Irving Layton dies

* FROM CBC ARTS: Firebrand: Irving Layton, 1912-2006

Cohen also read from Layton's poem The Graveyard.

The various speakers remembered Layton as flamboyant, audacious and one-of-a-kind – a great poet who transformed the Canadian literary landscape.

He was honoured as a teacher, colleague, mentor, poet and friend, a man whose doors were always open to artists and writers. Layton was named to the Order of Canada in 1976.

Leonard Cohen (right) helps carry the casket of fellow poet Irving Layton in Montreal on Sunday. (CP Photo)

Layton spent much of his life battling the British hold on the Canadian literary scene and railing against the status quo. He was known for his provocative and sensual poetry, and also for his brash, larger-than-life public persona.

"Irving Layton felt the injustice around him. His poetry was a means of conveying that message of injustice and of mobilizing us in that struggle, and never to acquiesce in conventional wisdoms of the time or the political correctness that would pass for conventional wisdom but to be a voice for the voiceless," eulogized Cotler.

Layton married five women, each marriage ending in divorce. He leaves four children.

Wild, Peculiar Boy, Canada.com, Jan 8 06

Canada.com
Nelson Wyatt, Canadian Press
Published: Sunday, January 08, 2006
Nobel-nominated poet Irving Layton remembered for his influence, talent

MONTREAL (CP) - Irving Layton, whose poetry earned him a Nobel Prize nomination, was remembered Sunday as a man who inspired people to lofty goals with his words and yet viewed the world with a playful optimism.

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

"We were like two girls in a dorm, basically, talking and talking and laughing and talking and travelling."

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 city sidewalks.

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."

But it was as a literary icon that poet-singer Leonard Cohen remembered his friend. He brought one of Layton's books to the service and read from it.

"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."

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.

During the time she knew him, she said she was astounded by his extraordinary energy.

"He crackled," she recalled, saying he lived up to his mother's nickname for him, which translated as "exploding flame."

"From the moment he woke up in the morning, to the minute he went to bed at night - all day long, just thinking and reading and writing and cogitating and confabulating." Then there might be a quick nap and then the whole process would start anew.

He wrote personal replies to anyone who wrote him and he didn't mind criticism, despite what some said.

"As long as people could marshall their facts and come at him with the passion that he had - bring it on," Pottier said. "He was very happy because of he was so sure of who he was."

A prolific writer, Layton published more than 40 books of poetry and prose during more than five decades.

He was named to the Order of Canada in 1976, held several university posts as poet-or writer-in-residence and was twice nominated for the Nobel Prize for literature. He was the only non-Italian to win Italy's Petrarch Award for Poetry.

Born Israel Lazarovitch in Romania on March 12, 1912, he was the youngest of seven children. His family immigrated to Canada when he was a year old and settled in a tough multiethnic neighbourhood of Montreal.

He started out writing for obscure literary magazines but gained widespread noteriety after winning the Governor General's Award in 1959. After that, he also became a familiar face on TV.

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

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.

"It was the showmanship that fused him in the public imagination and allowed him to do his work that much better," said Znaimer.

"I learned something from that exercise, that the new electronic media, the power of the image fused with the words is what the new poetry, the next generation poetry, would have to be like."

He sees Layton as "larger than life and someone who will last above all. I'm sure that's what he wanted and he should rest easy. I think the work will last."

That was echoed by Pottier, who said Layton's work is reaching a new audience slowly as his work is posted on the Internet. Layton had been out of print until last year.

Samantha Bernstein, Layton's daughter by his fourth wife and one of his four children, said people could remember her father by reading more. They should check out his work, she said with a smile, because "it shakes things up a lot more than most of the other poets."

But people should draw other lessons from Layton than from words on a page, she added.

"He ought to be remembered for his love of life, I think, most of all for his tremendous joy in living," she said. "He loved to inspire people by his joy, his sheer joy. That's what I think people should remember. There's not enough of that."

© The Canadian Press 2006

Unequivocal by Toronto's Poet Laureate, Toronto Star, Jan 8 06

The unequivocal Irving Layton, 1912-2006
Jan. 8, 2006. 04:23 PM
PIER GIORGIO DI CICCO
SPECIAL TO THE STAR

Embraced by the media, shunned by the prudes of Can Lit, worshipped by lovers, reviled by feminists, loved by his students, Irving Layton was the only household name associated with Canadian poetry in the 1960s and '70s. Leonard Cohen (who had been his discovery) was a pop guru outside the discourse of Canadian letters. Al Purdy minded the fort of Canadian idiom, respected but low-keyed. Margaret Atwood was the priestess of the culturati. But Layton was the public figure who introduced the poet to the airwaves, available always to rant on national television about the self-defeating ways of the country he loved, eager to rail against the WASP witchery that nagged his meteoric presence from day one; above all, ready to stand up as the voice of the unequivocal to both poetasters and philistines alike.

The "unequivocal" was Irving's great gift to Canadiana; conviction threaded through his heart and mind and found spontaneity in a love of discourse, a love of play, compelled by the notion that silence could only breed misunderstanding and Canadian self-doubt. He was made for a country beginning to see itself, articulating itself, in need of those who were proud to be a breed of their own. Everyone was putting their dibs in for cultural identity — the west coasters with their landscape and disdain for the east; the Prairie writers forging mythologies from a pioneer archive; the east coasters with their commemorative folklore; Toronto in those days was more a clearing house for Canadian culture; Montreal was the darling archive of Jewish, Quebec romance where Irving had begun with John Sutherland, A.M. Klein, Louis Dudek — but none of these circles had dared the international, liaised with continental authors, published with American houses or been translated into several languages. Long before Canadian writing became a major export, Irving had made the Canadian presence felt in Europe and the U.S.

His poetry was anomalous. It had no roots in the measured registers of Canadian poetry. It disdained the topicality of landscape and the myths of wilderness and northness. The only thing homegrown about Irving's poetry was the Dionysian flavour of his passion, self-generated and unbeholden to the vagaries of time, place and generation.

And that's why people identified with it. People; not the markets of literature, not the classes of the educated, not the political pundits of identity, but people who wanted to know that a poet could remind them of the fervour that survives daily life. His subjects were love, sex, death, and more love... the defiance of time, the lust for life, and more love... contempt for the small-minded, contempt for tyranny, and more love.

He was a student of love, and if this love got packaged in the immoderate, in the unpolished — if his love exceeded the forms of verse or constraints of rhetoric — like Neruda, his generosity of spirit seduced the reader to the poetry in the man.

For it was the poetry of life we wanted from Irving, the clues about how to be larger than ourselves, a lesson we wanted as Canadians, in spite of our reservations.

He was larger than life, if garish in his presentations, as if to offset the fear of the indecorous that besieged Canadian expression at every turn in those days. He invited the Canadian establishment to throw caution to the winds on the off chance that exaggeration was the next best thing to courage in a time of cultural anemia.

So it was fitting that one night the powers-that-be in Toronto threw a surprise party for Irving at Casa Loma (as if you could surprise Irving with anything but a gesture of joy).

Sylvia Fraser came out of a birthday cake; Jack McClelland gave ovations for a man not unlike himself who had attempted to put colour into the drab protocol of Canadian publishing.

It was a night unlike Toronto in the '70s; the luminaries came out and feted Irving in a style that might be commonplace in the Toronto of today, but in those days it was a statement of joy in a town that didn't associate the arts with public joy. Irving took it in stride with his typical sense, contagious to all of us, that an appetite for life was the reward of aesthetic industry.

My memories pale; reality stings at the thought of Irving having languished in a nursing home in his last years, ravaged by the complexions of Alzheimer's, the occasional pilgrim piercing his reveries with thankfulness and recollection. It is only the epiphanies that survive our narratives, well past our own remembering and chronologies. His happy days at Niagara-on-the-Lake, his jousts in Italy with the first Italian publication of a Canadian poet, the rallying of so many to nominate him as the first Canadian worthy of a Nobel prize; all these trajectories are chiefly distilled into my picture of a man who mixed vanity with talent in such a way as to convince me that the celebration of the ego was the extent to which the heart's muscle could expand.

If he had heart, it was because he could love himself; if he could love himself it was because he had faith that a man's worth was about forgiving his own foolishness, to reach the extraordinary — a lesson still on the curriculum of national consciousness.

Irving is not vastly popular among the post-modern novices of current poetry. He is still controversial where his reach exceeded his grasp. His voice of bombast was cheek to cheek with his forgiveness for the human condition, and his statement was the poignancy of all things human — a library of passion still unrivalled in Canadian poetry.

He didn't believe in many realities and many versions of compassion and the many ways to live life safely as a politically correct animal.

He had one embracing heart and a voice to match it, and his generosity to younger writers is a legacy to be studied.

He was international before the global ever came around, and if young writers can assume they can speak globally without the agony of Canadian timidness, it is partly because of the flexed muscles of a historical angel called Irving Layton.

Pier Giorgio Di Cicco is Toronto's poet laureate.