Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Relations Internationale Quebec article ,Jan 6 06


Death of Canadian poet Irving Layton
Presse canadienne - Le Soleil

Irving Layton, whose gritty, satiric and erotic poems left an indelible mark on the Canadian literary landscape, has died at age 93. Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, Layton passed away in a long-term care facility in Montréal.

A prolific writer, he published over 40 books of poetry and prose over more than five decades, working his way to the top of the Canadian literature hierarchy.

Named to the Order of Canada in 1976, the Montréal writer held several university positions as poet- or writer-in-residence. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982.

610 CKTB article, Jan 06

CKTB Radio, St.Catherine's, Ontario

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

Diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 1994, Layton died in a long-term care facility in Montreal. 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.

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

Anti-bourgeois AttitudesToday's, Woman.net, Jan 06

Irving Layton OC (March 12, 1912 – January 4, 2006) was a Canadian poet.

Born Israel Pincu Lazarovitch in Târgu Neamţ, a small town in Romania, to Jewish parents, his family emigrated to Montreal, Quebec in 1913 and was forced to live in the impoverished St. Urbain Street neighbourhood, later made famous by Mordecai Richler in his novels. There Layton and his family (his father died when he was 13) faced daily struggles with, among others, Montreal's French Canadians, who were uncomfortable with the growing numbers of Jewish newcomers.

Layton graduated from Alexandra Elementary School and attended Baron Byng High School, where his life was changed when he was introduced to such poets as Alfred Lord Tennyson, Walter Scott, William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, and Percy Bysshe Shelley; the novelists Jane Austen and George Eliot; the essayists Francis Bacon, Oliver Goldsmith, Samuel Johnson, and Jonathan Swift; and also William Shakespeare and Charles Darwin. He became very interested in politics and social theory and began reading Karl Marx and Nietzsche and also became politically active in socialist politics — so much so that he became a threat to the high school administration and was asked to leave before graduating. In light of his limited educational opportunities, with no high school diploma, and also due to limited finances, he enrolled in Macdonald College in 1934 and received a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture.

While in college, he was well known in artistic circles for his anti-bourgeois attitudes and his criticism of politics. He quickly found that his true interest was poetry, so pursued a career as a poet and became friends with the emerging young poets of his day, including fellow Canadian poets John Sutherland, Raymond Souster, and Louis Dudek. In the 1940s, Layton and his fellow Canadian poets rejected the older generation of poets, including Northrop Frye, and their efforts helped define the tone of the post-war generation poets in Canada. Essentially, they argued that modern poetry should set its own style, independent of British styles and influences, and should reflect the social realities of the day.

In 1936, Layton met Faye Lynch, whom he married in 1938. When Layton graduated from Macdonald College in 1939, he moved with Faye to Halifax where he worked odd jobs, including a stint as a Fuller Brush man. Soon disenchanted with his life, Layton decided, one evening, to return to Montreal. He began teaching English to recent immigrants to make ends meet and continued doing so for many years. Indecisive about his future and enraged by Hitler's violence toward Jews and destruction of European culture, Layton enlisted in the Canadian army in 1942. While serving as a Brigade Commander at Petawawa, Layton met Betty Sutherland, an accomplished painter (and later poet), and a half-sister to actor Donald Sutherland. Layton soon divorced Faye and married Betty. They had two children together: Maxwell Rubin (1946) and Naomi Parker (1950). 1943, Layton was given an honourable discharge from the army and returned to Montreal.

Layton had become a strong socialist while at high school and joined the Young People's Socialist League. Later, he became active in the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation. Because of this activity he was blacklisted and banned from entering the United States for the next two decades. While he continued to consider himself a Marxist, he became anti-Communist during the Cold War and broke with many on the left with his support of the Vietnam War. (Source: Toronto Star, January 5, 2006)

Layton's activism and poetry had made him an internationally known celebrity by the 1950s and he was a fixture on early Canadian television 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 formidable debater.

In 1946, after receiving his M.A. in economics and political science from McGill (with a thesis on Harold Laski), Layton considered teaching as a career. In 1949, Layton began teaching English, history, and political science at the Jewish parochial high school, Herzliah. He was an influential teacher and many of his students became poets, writers, and artists. Among his students were poet/songwriter Leonard Cohen and television magnate Moses Znaimer. Layton would continue to teach for the greater part of his life: as a teacher of modern English and American poetry at Sir George Williams University (now Concordia University) and as a tenured professor at Toronto's York University in the 1970s, as well as delivering many lectures and readings throughout Canada. Layton would pursue his Ph.D. in 1948 though he would abandon it due to the demands of his already hectic professional life.

In the late 1950s, at the height of his career, friends introduced Layton to Aviva Cantor (who had emmigrated to Montreal from her native Australia in 1955), and Layton later made her his third wife. The two had a son, David, in 1964. Over the next few years, Layton's demanding schedule became the dominating force in his life and resulted in Layton's and Aviva's decision to separate.

In the late 1970s, Layton befriended Harriet Bernstein, once a student of his and, after a whirlwind courtship, they married and in 1981 a daughter, Samantha Clara, was born. The marriage was short-lived, however, and Layton would soon meet Anna (Annette) Pottier, an aspiring painter and poet 48 years his junior, who became his fifth and last wife. They would live in the middle-class Notre Dame de Grace neighbourhood of Montreal from 1983 until the mid 1990s when they separated and divorced.

Throughout the 1950s on to the 1980s, Layton travelled widely abroad and became especially popular in South Korea and Italy, and in 1981 these two nations nominated him for the Nobel Prize for Literature. (The prize that year was instead awarded to novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez.) Among his many awards during his career was the Governor-General's Award for A Red Carpet for the Sun in 1959 and in 1976 he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.

In 1995 Layton was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He died at the Maimonides Geriatric Centre in Montreal at the age of 93 on January 4, 2006.

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


* Deveau, Scott. "Canadian poet Irving Layton dies at 93", The Globe and Mail. January 4, 2006.

Biography by: This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License and uses material adapted in whole or in part from the Wikipedia article on Irvin Layton.

CKUA, U. of Alberta including 1985 recorded interview

Irving Layton, a CKUA Memory

Canada's highly regarded poet Irving Layton, died Wednesday in Montreal. He had been in a long term care facility since 2000. The 93-year-old poet was suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

Layton spent much of his career as a teacher, first at a parochial high school, later at Sir George Williams University and York University where he taught English.

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 famous students.

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

He won acclaim for his first major poem, The Swimmer, in 1944. Layton's star rose rapidly in the 1950s and '60s. He soon became a regular on the CBC-TV. He was named to the Order of Canada in 1976. Layton is known for his rapier wit and ongoing battle against uniformity and Puritanism.

In December of 1985, Irving Layton visited the CKUA Radio studios and recorded this interview with Tony Dillon Davis. The interview was recorded on publication of Layton's memoir Waiting for a Messiah.

Listen to the interview (8 minutes, 54 seconds)
(In order to listen you must have Windows Media Player. To install the latest player, click here.)

Read more about Irving Layton at this CBC website: www.cbc.ca/arts/books/layton.html.

Skyscraperpage.com (and Layton poems), blog entry, Jan 4 06


1.4.06 by Kilgore Trout
Republished Globe & Mail article By Scott Deveau
Location: montreal

1/4/06 by Kool Maudit

another gone from this city's first greatness.

neither tribal nor trivial he shouted
from the city's centre where tramcars moved
like stained bacilli across the eyeballs.
dart into the perilous shrubbery


1/9/06 by Habsfan
Location: The Mecca of Hockey

Apparently Leonard Cohen was at the funeral!

Does anyone Know if Cohen still resides in this city, or does he live in L.A.?

1/9/06 by Elsonic
Location: Montréal

je ne connais même pas Mr. Clayton. pour quelqu'un qui ne lit même pas de poésie dans sa propre langue, auriez-vous des suggestions d'oeuvres pas trop difficiles ?

1/9/06 by Kool Maudit
Location: montreal

cohen lives a few places; always spends part of the year here though.

i've seen him on st-laurent a few times.

the following is from 1945's 'first statement:'


Neither tribal nor trivial he shouts
From the city's centre where tramcars move
Like stained bacilli across the eyeballs,
Where people spore in composite buildings
From their protective gelatine of doubts,
Old ills, and incapacity to love
While he, a Joshua before their walls,
Sells newspapers to the gods and geldings.

Intrusive as a collision, he is
The Zeigeist's too public interpreter,
A voice multiplex and democratic,
The people's voice or the monopolists';
Who with last-edition omniscience
Plays Clotho to each gaping customer
With halcyon colt, sex crime in an attic,
The story of a twice-jailed bigamist.

For him the mitred cardinals sweat in
Conclaves domes; the spy is shot. Empiric;
An obstreporous confidant of kings
Rude despiser of the anonymous,
Danubes of blood was up his bulletins
While he domesticates disaster like
A wheat in pampas of prescriptive things
With cries animal and ambiguous.

His dialectics will assault the brain,
Contrive men to voyages or murder,
Dip the periscope of their public lives
To the green levels of acidic caves;
Fever their health, or heal them with ruin,
Or with lies as dangerous as a latter;
Finally enfold the season's cloves,
Cover a somnolent face on Sundays.

- Irving Layton
dart into the perilous shrubbery
1/9/06 by MTL - 514
Location: montreal

very nice write-up. Interesting...

while for much of my life I've heard the name Irving Layton referred to as one of Canada's alltime best-known and most influential writers/poets, I have never read a single poem or writing by him until the excerpt posted just above. funny that we never learned any of his stuff back in school. when I think of it, very little of the literature we learned back in high school was Canadian. that's a pity...

I wonder if that has changed at all in recent years

gotta say, I'm not much of a poetry buff, but I think it's still important for kids in school to at least get exposed to some of the most important works out there, and some of the important literature from year hometown or region...


1/14/06 by Kilgore Trout
Location: montreal

there was always a very strong canadian component in my junior high and high school english classes: mordecai richler, timothy findlay, margaret atwood, etc.

i learned about and read layton in two of my mcgill classes: canadian literature (which was mostly devoted to poetry, because the professor rightfully felt that it was underexposed) and literary montreal (which was not actually a literature course -- it looked at montreal through the prism of its literature, with an emphasis on the 1940s).

and man, i would have loved to be at the funeral.

Powerful Expression (and Layton poems), Jan 10 06

posted Tuesday, January 10, 2006
Irving Layton (1912-2006)

Irving Layton was a towering figure in twentieth century Canadian literature. He was born into a Jewish family in Rumania in 1912, shortly before they immigrated to Canada the following year. He was a prolific writer, publishing over 40 books during half a century of writing. Layton was best known for his poetry, much of which was written in a loose, confessional mode. In the mid-century he helped lead the rebellion against a stuffy, genteel Canadian poetic tradition which aped British verse.

Irving Layton never exactly went out of his way to cultivate a British readership, remarking in his poem ‘The Baroness’ - in a characteristically confrontational manner - “Take it from me, English poetry when it isn’t the death wish / is voyeurism and cuntsniffing / but done with so much aplomb you take it / for spirituality or a concern with art and the good life”. Discuss. One hour. (Well, as a point of view it certainly makes a refreshing change from the tepid stuff you read in the Guardian Saturday book section.)

My memory of Layton is of a big man, tanned, who was wearing a cool safari outfit with epaulettes on the shoulder. I’m shocked to realise how old he was: when I met him he seemed so much younger than he really was. Layton was an energetic larger-than-life character with a very combative personality - though to a young fan like me he was extremely genial and not at all abrasive. Somewhere I have a record of our conversation; if I ever find it I’ll post it.

Once a fiery young socialist who was banned from entering the USA for 15 years, Layton became an outspoken right-winger in later years. He liked to provoke. Lines like “not being handicapped in the least by vision or creativity, women are by far the stronger sex” were not designed to endear him to a female readership. But the laconic tongue-in-cheek bellicosity sometimes, alas, shaded over into sheer nastiness. At his best, Layton joyously celebrated sex, love, travel, life, people; at his worst, he gave way to a sour malice, occasionally expressed in intemperate and unpleasant language. His great friend Leonard Cohen once aptly compared him to Timon of Athens.

Yet sometimes Layton’s ferocity and anger hit the spot. At a time when Maoism was flavour of the month among some gullible European intellectuals, Layton came up with this withering, and to my mind very effective expression of his contempt:

To Maoists

From my heart I rooted out Jehovah;
I spurned Moses and his Tables of Law
And tore up my father’s phylacteries.
I did not turn from dragons to live with fleas.

Layton was acutely aware of his identity as a Jew and one of my favourite poems of his is ‘The Final Solution’, about a visit to Germany in the 1970s. It powerfully expresses his appalled horror at the normality of modern German life. After the unimaginable horror of the Holocaust, life goes on. The ordinary supplants the tragic monstrosity of the past. The speaker feels himself surrounded by the ghosts of dead Jews and contrasts the lost vitality of Europe before the Third Reich with bland, banal colourless modern Germany. This is the poem I prefer to remember Layton by: there is sourness here but also sadness. His characteristic sense of disgust and anger is muted and shaped into a fine, wistful poem. In the last line there is, I think, a humane acceptance of the inevitability of this social condition, no matter how revolting its context.

The Final Solution

It’s all been cleared away, not a trace:
laughter keeps the ghosts in the cold ovens
and who can hear the whimpering of small children
or of beaten men and women, the hovering echoes,
when the nickelodeons play all day the latest Berliner
love ballads, not too loudly, just right?
Taste the blood in the perfect Rhenish wine
or smell the odour of fear when such lovely
well-scented frauleins are fiddling with the knobs
and smiling at the open-faced soldier in the corner?

History was having one if its fits – so what?
What does one do with a mad dog? One shoots it
finally and returns armless and bemedalled
to wife and children or goes to a Chaplin film
where in the accomodating dark the girlfriend
unzips your fly to warm her hands on your scrotum.
Heroes and villains, goodies and baddies, what
will you have to drink with the goulash? In art museums
together they’re shown the mad beast wagging its tail
at a double-hooked nose that dissolves into ash

And appraised by gentlemen with clean fingernails
who admire a well-executed composition or pointed to
in hushed tones so that nothing of the novel frisson
be lost. Europe blew out its brains
for that frisson: gone forever are the poets and actors
the audacious comics that made Vienna and Warsaw
hold their sides with laughter. Gone, gone forever.
They will never return, these wild extravagant souls:
mediocrity stopped up their witty mouths,
envy salted the ground with their own sweet blood

Sealed up their light in the lightless halls of death.
Alas, the world cannot endure too much poetry:
a single cracked syllable – with a cognac – suffices.
I have seen the children of reingemacht Europe, their
queer incurious dead eyes and handsome blank faces,
leather straps and long matted hair their sole madness.
They have no need of wit or extravagance, they have
their knapsacks, their colourful all-purpose knapsacks.
The nickelodeon grinds on like fate, six fatties play cards:
the day is too ordinary for ghosts or griefs

Austin American Statesman article, Jan 5 06

Republished Associated Press article

Australia and New Zealand Teachers Chatboard, Jan 9 06

Republished www.irvinglayton.com biography

1070 WIBC, Indianapolis, Indiana article, Jan 5 06

Republished Associated Press article

Miami Herald article, Jan 5 06

Republished Associated Press article

In Memory of Irving Layton, a Poem for Irving, Jan 5 06

In Memory of Irving Layton
by john k zimmerman
Thursday, January 05, 2006

Irving Layton, died yesterday [06/01/04]. Prolific, and provocative poet-- his evocative, sometimes erotic poems written in the language of the street changed Canadian poetry in the middle of the last century.

He was 93.
canlit short hand for Canadian Literature -- if you have to ask .....

In Memory of Irving Layton

Brawling, bawdy, engaging erotic
you were all of these things
a larger than life wordsmith
provocative, and infuriating.

professor, iconoclast, prophet,
teaching a nation to sing
in the language of the market place.

celebrant of eros, putting passion in canlit,
coffee break affairs energizing
both the poet and the work.

you have left us for that place where
poetry sings the poet and where
words and images dance on their
complexly simple measures.

giant, you have left us, lesser poets, here
seeking to follow in your seven league strides


by William Bonilla
A wondeful Tribute To a fellow poet
Well Penned
Thanks for sharing
William ..... Peace

by _ Aberjhani
A powerful tribute wholly worthy of the poet and the art. Thank you for lifting your own titanic voice in honor and celebration of this exceptional literary soul and guiding spirit.

by Joselyn MayFair
Wonderful tribute to this poet and his life of writing thank you for sharing and the caption of him.

by Karla Dorman, Lady of the Lights

Love this tribute to a Poet who no doubtedly left his mark upon you. To continue his legacy, be like him--and never put down your talented pen!

(((HUGS))) and love, Karla.

by Tinka Boukes
Wonderful tribute John!!
Happy New Year my Friend!!
Love Tinka

by Jerry Bolton
Sorry, don't know the poet, will look him up, sorry for you loss. "Canlit." Yup, I would have had to ask. But then you know how uncouth most of us "fly-over" people are down here.

by Kate Clifford
Wonderful tribute. Love the descriptions you have used.

Web India 123.com article, Jan 14 06


Canadian poet Irving Layton dead at 93
Montreal | January 14, 2006 12:01:13 AM IST

Canadian poet Irving Layton has died in Montreal, Quebec, at age 93.

Layton died Jan. 4 from Alzheimer's disease diagnosed in 1994, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.

Layton published more than 40 volumes of verse and prose dating to the mid-1940's and was given his country's highest honor, the Order of Canada, in 1976.

He was born Irving Peter Lazarovitch in a small town in Romania and moved with his family to Canada.

Layton was both influential and controversial and described himself as a quiet madman, never far from tears, the Times said.

He lectured and taught as a professor and poet in residence at a number of Canadian colleges and universities into the late 1980s.

Layton was married five times.

He is survived by Anna Pottier, who he married in 1984, as well as two sons and two daughters.

Find Law article, Jan 5 06

Top Canadian Poet Irving Layton Dies at 93
Republished Associated Press article

A Comet, Concordia University Journal, Jan 12 06

Concordia University Journal article
Great Canadian poet Irving Layton dies at 93
by Barbara Black

Esteemed poet and former Concordia professor Irving Layton died on Jan. 4.

Poet, teacher and incandescent public personality Irving Layton died Jan. 4 at the age of 93. Recent tributes have hailed him as a Canadian literary icon. His funeral was attended by Leonard Cohen, Irwin Cotler and Moses Znaimer, among others.

Layton lit up the timid, tweedy literary scene in the 1960s like a comet. His sexual frankness shocked and delighted the Canadian public, who looked forward to his appearances on television, yet much of his work is lyrical and contemplative.

A Montrealer from infancy, he had strong connections with Concordia throughout his life. They go back to 1950, when he started teaching English part-time at Sir George Williams University. He continued to teach until 1964, and taught for another term at Concordia in 1978.

He was presented with an honorary degree in 1976, and served as writer in residence in 1989. In 1988, the English Department inaugurated the Irving Layton Award for Creative Writing, and gives it annually to an outstanding student.

Retired English professor Henry Beissel, himself a poet, was a good friend. Beissel said from his home near Ottawa that Layton “was a man engaged in his craft who worked hard at it.

“In fact, his willingness to leap into the dark may be his biggest contribution. He was a passionate man who never shied away from a fight, never tired of haranguing audiences that poetry is central to our culture.” Beissel said, Layton was extremely generous to his students.

As early as 1964, Sir George Williams University started to acquire material from Layton, and this continued over the years, largely under the direction of librarian Joy Bennett. Exhibits of Layton materials have been mounted in the Concordia libraries.

The above photo of Irving Layton was taken at the Loyola Faculty Club on March 1, 2001, when he attended a reception to acknowledge the transfer of some of his writing materials to the Concordia Libraries. His desk was acquired by Concordia’s Institute for Canadian Jewish Studies in 2000.

- Barbara Black

A Life Recorded, Jan 06

Post on LifeRecorded.com (biography from www.irvinglayton.com)

First Name: Irving
Last Name: Layton
Date Born: 12 March 1912
Date Died: 04 January 2006
Birth Country: Canada Canada
Gender: Male

On the twelfth day of March 1912, Israel Pincu Lazarovitch, or Irving Layton, was born to Jewish parents in the Romanian town of Tirgul Neamt. There was an air of magic surrounding the birth of the youngest son of a quiet and deeply religious man and his dominant and practical wife. The child, who would one day grow up to be nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature, achieved early local fame due to his being born naturally circumcised, a sign which orthodox Jews believe is the mark of the Messiah. After Flamplatz, his mother's pet name for him (Yiddish for Exploding Flame), was told about the event surrounding his birth, he grew to believe in his own sense of destiny and immortality.

His family immigrated to Montreal in 1913, and was forced to live in a poor St. Urbain Street neighbourhood, later made famous by Mordecai Richler's novels. "Issie" and his older brothers and sisters faced daily struggles with, among others, the Montreal French Canadians, who were uncomfortable with the growing numbers of Jewish newcomers. "Issie" gained a reputation of fearlessness in the face of the attacks, and came to be called "Nappy," short for Napoleon, which also reflected his scrappy nature. When Irving was a young boy, his Mother was the centre of his world, and her little Flamplatz held the honour of being her youngest and favourite. Between receiving an alternating onslaught of Yiddish curses and warm displays of affection, Irving was taught about the duality of human nature, indeed of life itself. In addition, Layton's father Moishe (Moses), though unlike the colourful Keine (Klara), had a strong effect on his young son. A shy and almost docile man who felt he existed to visit the synagogue and study the Talmud in his small dark bedroom, Moishe had little direct contact with his children. Yet it was his strong sense of the Divine, of the Poetic, which would make its mark on the yet unhatched poet.

At thirteen years of age, after the death of his father in 1925 and after graduating from Alexandra Elementary School, Irving became a businessman--peddling household goods to Montrealers to the delight of his mother and sisters who considered this a worthwhile career. But despite their protests, Irving abandoned his short-lived and surprisingly successful stint as a door-to-door salesman and decided to enroll in Baron Byng High School where young Irving would be changed forever. Layton recalls hearing Mr. Saunders, his tenth grade English teacher, read Tennyson's ballad "The Revenge": "I'd never heard the English language so beautifully read, so powerfully rendered, and I remember sitting quietly in my seat and listening enraptured as the sounds filled the room...."

Irving's early literary influences included the poets Tennyson, Walter Scott, Wordsworth, Byron, and Shelly; the novelists Austen and George Eliot; the essayists Bacon, Goldsmith, Johnson, Addison, and Swift; and, of course, Shakespeare and Darwin. His hunger for knowledge was equalled only by that for truth, which led Layton into exploring political and philosophical thought. Among other writers, Layton began to read Marx and Nietszche, and though he began to deem himself a socialist, in later years Layton identified with the New Democratic Party of Canada. He joined the Young People's Socialist League for a short time, and had fierce debates with budding politicians such as David Lewis and poets such as A. M. Klein. With his "radical" ideas, Layton had become a threat to the Baron Byng administrative, and he was forced to leave before graduating. With little money, Layton had few options for higher education. With this in mind, he enrolled in MacDonald College in 1934 and received a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture.

Layton was writing more and more poetry, yet it did not attract the attention his later works would. However, at MacDonald College Layton wrote a column for the student newspaper "Failte Ye Times" which is where Layton's left-wing politics and radical ideas came into public view. In fact, some of the articles aroused so much suspicion by the students at "Mac" that years later Layton was blacklisted from entering the U.S.A. for almost fifteen years. In response to the articles he was writing, Layton founded the "Social Research Club" which served as a forum for opposing political views and featured speakers such as Dr. Norman Bethune. After years of participating in Montreal's social and political debates on a regular basis at places like Horn's Cafeteria, Layton's debating skills were formidable, and it was in 1935 that Layton and a schoolmate took on the Oxford-Cambridge debating team and won. Layton's speaking skills came to be his trademark, drawing large audiences at his peak.

In the mid 1930s, Layton met and befriended Louis Dudek, another young poet from Montreal. Their friendship was strong, but they often argued about their conflicting ideas about poetry, and their later feuds were much publicized. At this time, Layton continued to work odd jobs and still had no serious aspirations of becoming a writer, although one of Layton's short stories won the McGill Daily's prize. On the advice of his brother who had been living in the U.S., Layton spent a year in New York before returning to MacDonald College to complete his undergraduate degree.

The year was 1936, and Layton met Faye Lynch, the self-sufficient daughter of a middle-class family whom he would marry in 1938. Layton graduated from MacDonald College in 1939, and Faye and Irving moved to Halifax where Layton once again worked odd jobs, including working as a Fuller Brush Man. Realizing that he had married a woman he pitied but didn't love and being disenchanted by his life in general, Layton decided, one evening, to return to Montreal. He began teaching English to recent immigrants to make ends meet, and continued for many years. Indecisive about his future and enraged by Hitler's bloodshed, Layton enlisted in the Canadian army in 1942.

While serving as a Brigade Commander in Petawawa, Layton met Betty Sutherland, an accomplished painter (and later poet), while on leave. Layton would soon after divorce Faye and marry Betty. Their union would produce Layton's first two children: Maxwell Rubin (1946) and Naomi Parker (1950). Betty's brother was John Sutherland, a poet and the editor of First Statement, a literary magazine begun by Sutherland when the more established Preview rejected his submissions. Among Preview's editors were F. R. Scott, P. K. Page, A. M. Klein, and Patrick Anderson. In 1943, Layton was given an honorable discharge from the army and returned to Montreal for good.

Layton became a close friend of John Sutherland, and, along with Louis Dudek, became an editor of First Statement Press, lending his efforts to raising money for its upkeep. The first book published by the press was Layton's Here and Now in 1945. Later that year, First Statement and Preview united as Northern Review. At this time, the younger poets--Layton, Souster, Sutherland, and others--were at odds with an aging group of poets and their supporters, such as Northrop Frye, as to the nature and meaning of poetry itself. The younger group was adamant that poetry must express social realities in order to remain relevant, and that Canadian poets must forge their own identity rather than look to England to set the tone for the next century of writing.

Despite the disdain of all things British within their circle, John Sutherland introduced Layton to the British poets Auden, Yeats, Eliot, Spender, and, one of Layton's favourite writers, D. H. Lawrence, whose openness about sexuality intrigued him. In 1944, Layton wrote his first major poem, "The Swimmer," in Child's restaurant near the Princess Theatre in Montreal. Running into Child's and grabbing the waitress's pen, Layton scribbled the poem at a frenzied pace. Layton considers this to be a pivotal moment--he finally joined the ranks of poets and saw his destiny materializing.

Yet as Layton often says, artists must align themselves with reality in order to survive. So in 1946, after receiving his M.A. in Political Science with a thesis on Harold Laski, Layton considered teaching as a career. In 1949, Layton began teaching English, History, and Political Science at the Jewish parochial high school, Herzliah. He was an energetic and influential teacher and was well liked and respected by his students, many of whom became poets, writers, and artists. Among his students were poet/songwriter Leonard Cohen and television magnate Moses Znaimer. Layton would continue to teach for the greater part of his life: as a teacher of modern English and American poetry at Sir George Williams (now Concordia) University and as a tenured professor at York University in the 1970s, as well as delivering many lectures and readings throughout Canada. Layton would pursue his Ph.D. in 1948, under the auspices of Frank Scott, though he would abandon it due to the demands of his already hectic professional life.

During this time, Layton, distancing himself from the increasingly religious Sutherland, worked with Dudek and Souster to write Cerberus, a compilation of the three poets' work, which was published by Contact Press. (Layton became one of Contact Press's first editors, holding the position from the 50s until the early 60s.) Cerberus is an important book because it was written partly in response to Cid Corman's Origin and the energy that American poetry was expressing at this time. Layton now realized that he and his key contemporaries were part of a new movement in poetry--an energy that was moving away from the post World War I Romantic poetry that had been the mainstay for so long.

During this time, Layton's popularity increased dramatically, starting in 1951 with the publication of The Black Huntsmen. Irving continued to teach at Herzliah and Sir George Williams as well as occasionally lecturing at McGill in Political Science. He also continued to teach English and Literature at the Jewish Public Library, and it was here that Layton would meet and befriend Musia Schwartz, a woman who has remained a loyal friend to him for over five decades. By the mid 50s, Layton was more prolific than at any other time in his career, and many believe that his verse was at its best during this time. He gave many readings, received numerous awards, and appeared on the CBC televised debating program Fighting Words, where Layton, the fiercest debater, was crowned "Mr. Fighting Words." Layton was becoming well known for his booming voice, engaging personality, and anti-bourgeoisie attitudes. He enjoyed smashing Canada's puritanism and creating controversy. He gained international popularity, with Italy, Germany, and South Korea expressing interest in him. His books started being translated into Spanish, Italian, Greek and Korean.

At his most prolific, Layton was publishing a book almost every year: the pace not slowing until the mid 1980s. Layton soon began to win Canada Council grants, the first of which was in 1957 for The Improved Binoculars. By the mid 50s, Layton's work had become recognized by Canada's large publishing houses, and it was in 1959 that McClelland & Stewart published Layton's A Red Carpet for the Sun, which won the Governor General's Award. It was the beginning of a long-standing and mutually rewarding relationship between Layton and McClelland & Stewart, though Layton was also published by smaller publishing companies like Mosaic Press and foreign presses such as Spain's Divers Press and Greece's Hermia Publications. It was also in 1959 that Layton won the prestigious Senior Arts Fellowship. The fellowship enabled Irving to travel abroad and write, which he would continue to do for years to come, visiting places such as Italy, Israel, and India. Layton especially liked Greece, often staying with Cohen in Hydra or Molibos during the Canadian winters. While travelling in the late 60s, Layton wrote The Whole Bloody Bird (1969), a travel book of sorts and one of Layton's personal favourites. A departure from Layton's earlier books, it is not simply a collection of poetry, but also a compilation of daily observations about life, which Layton transforms into clever aphorisms as well as poems. Layton's personality is on full display; we see the ironic humour, the scathing wit, the amorous lover, and the aging prophet.

It was in the late 50s, the height of his career, when friends introduced Layton to the younger Aviva Cantor, a spirited woman with an artistic flair and love of books, and the two quickly became inseparable, Layton later making her his third wife. Irving and Betty would soon separate on friendly terms (they would remain friends until her death in 1984). Layton had been awarded several honorary degrees and was in high demand as a speaker and workshop teacher in Canada and abroad when he would become the proud father of another son, David (1964). Over the next few years, Layton's demanding schedule became the dominating force in his life, resulting in Irving and Aviva's decision to separate.

In the 1970s, Irving would befriend Harriet Bernstein, once a student of Layton's. After a whirlwind courtship, Irving married Harriet, and in 1981, a second daughter, Samantha Clara Layton, was born. The short-lived marriage to the woman from a wealthy and powerful Toronto family caused Layton much grief. The result of this grief was The Gucci Bag, which provided Layton an outlet through which to vent his sadness and frustration over his lost love and his separation from Samantha.

However, the early 1980s would not be devoid of joy. As Layton had hoped, he was nominated for the Nobel Prize by Italy and Korea, though eventually the prize would go to Gabriel Garcia Marquez. A few years later, Layton would meet Anna (Annette) Pottier, an aspiring painter and poet, at one of Irving's readings in the 1980s, and she would write to him asking for advice about writing poetry. Throughout his life, Irving has believed that his mother's presence protects and guides him, and so when he learned that Anna was born the day of his mother's death in 1959, he took it as a sign to commit to Anna, who became his fifth and last wife. They would live in the middle-class Notre Dame de Grace neighbourhood of Montreal from 1983 until the mid 1990s when the couple separated.

Since November 2000, Layton has been residing comfortably at Maimonides in Montreal, and is kept company by lifelong friend Musia Schwartz, two companions, and many friends and fans. Layton continues to receive regular requests from textbook publishers in Canada and the U.S. to reprint his work, establishing him as one of the most published poets in North America.

Throughout his career, Layton's "tell it like it is" style won him an equal amount of enemies and worshippers. Fighting a battle against Puritanism for most of his life, Layton's work had provided the bolt of lightening that was needed to split open the thin skin of conservatism and complacency in the poetry scene of the preceding century, allowing modern poetry to expose previously unseen richness and depth. The 1940s through to the 1960s were years of discovery, and many writers have acknowledged Layton as both Teacher and Prophet. Layton inspired many to follow his lead and tirelessly helped younger poets and writers in need. Throughout the years, Layton has bestowed his love of words, sound, and indeed his love of life itself upon audiences and readers. Leonard Cohen once said, "I taught him how to dress, he taught me how to live forever."

Irving died 4 january 2006.

Library and Archives Canada, Jan 06

Library and Archives Canada
Irving Layton (1912-2006)

Canadian poet, short-story writer and essayist. He is perhaps the best-known of a group of Montreal poets who battled against the romanticism of poetry in the mid-twentieth century. His poems express a vigorous sensuality and a contempt for what he regards as society's hypocrisy. He published many poetry collections including A Red Carpet for the Sun (1959) which won the Governor General's Award for poetry. In 1981 he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Library and Archives Canada holds a large collection of Irving Layton's published work, as well as archival records of his life and works in our collection of photography, film and sound recordings, documentary art and textual material. Among these resources are:

Harold Town portraits

Francis Reginald Scott fonds

Seymour Mayne fonds

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Radio

For historical information visit:
List item Library and Archives Canada - What's New Archives (2005)
List item Library and Archives Canada - What's New Archives (2004)
List item National Archives of Canada - News & Events Archive (1999-2003)
List item National Library of Canada - What's New Archives (1999-2003)