Sunday, April 09, 2006

Blue Metropolis Homage, with photo, The Gazette, April 9 06

Where solitudes greet each other
Homage to Irving Layton at Blue Metropolis erases barriers
by PAT DONNELLY
The Gazette
Sunday, April 09, 2006

CREDIT: WAYNE CUDDINGTON, CANWEST NEWS SERVICE FILE PHOTO

A panel discussion Thursday, Remembering Irving Layton (above), featured close friends of the late poet as well as his youngest child, Samantha Bernstein.

It was a shocking admission. At the Blue Metropolis opening gala on Wednesday night, literary broadcaster Raymond Cloutier (Vous m'en lirez tant, Radio-Canada) confessed he had never heard of Irving Layton until after the renowned poet died - in January.

Cloutier's point was to underline the necessity of an intercultural festival like the Blue Metropolis that resolutely attempts to break down barriers, not only between Montreal's "two solitudes" but between all its varied cultural communities.

To be fair to Cloutier, few of the non-francophones in the room would have been able to explain why the festival was paying tribute to the late Jacques Ferron (author, doctor and founder of the Rhinoceros Party). Layton, Ferron and the Nobel-winning Saul Bellow have all had memorial events at this year's festival.

Thursday's night's Layton panel, led by Anne Lagace Dowson, was a poignant one, with his youngest child, Samantha Bernstein, 25, sharing the stage with three of her father's friends, Musia Schwartz, Seymour Mayne and Donald Winkler. Each of them spoke about what Layton had meant to them, then read one of his poems. As Winkler pointed out, "If he knew we were here just talking about him and not reading his poetry, he would not be a happy camper."

In keeping with the moment, Winkler read a sonnet Layton had written for his daughter, when she was a newborn. It includes the line, "My wonderment will accompany you all your days."

In fact, as Bernstein soon pointed out, she really only got to know her father at the age of 16. Her parents' marriage didn't live past her infancy. (His version of what happened is dealt with in his The Gucci Bag.)

"It's an interesting thing to have one's infant self kind of permanently existing," she began. As a teenager, when she first met Layton, Bernstein said, she showed him one of her poems. He was very encouraging, as opposed to critical. Which disappointed her a little, because she wanted critical feedback.

When Dowson asked why Bernstein didn't meet her father until she was a teenager, she received a two-word reply: "Messy divorce."

Yet her mother never discouraged her from wanting to meet her father, Bernstein insisted. It was more a case of being a child happy in the little world created for her. Meeting her father would have been a big issue, she said, and no one wanted to "shake things up" by introducing him too soon.

Besides, she lived in Toronto and he lived in Montreal. "And he just seemed so old!" she added. "I was just too young and he seemed extremely out of my ken of the world. I didn't really understand the stature of the poetry, the stature of the books."

Her mother wasn't angry at Layton, she said. "But my grandmother was." Her mother regarded him as "a very complicated person. As somebody whose artistic yearnings were very much at odds with his domestic ones."

As a consequence of the split, Bernstein grew up with a debate over whether or not you have to be selfish or self-centred to be an artist. "I'm desperately hoping that's not the case," she said. "Because I'd really like to be a nice person. Irving was a nice person, in a way. But I'd like to have only one marriage." Later, Bernstein, an aspiring author, revealed she and her fiance, Michael Bobbi, are planning to marry this fall.

Michel Tremblay, who was awarded the 2006 Blue Metropolis Grand Prix, wasn't the only Montrealer to receive an important honour at this year's festival. A few hours before Wednesday's opening gala, in a small suite on the third floor of the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Ann Charney, author (Rousseau's Garden, Dobryd), award-winning journalist and co-founder of the Blue Met, was inducted into the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France, as an Officer, by Roland Goeldner of the French Consulate. Because of the small venue, only family members and a few friends were invited to the occasion, which was celebrated with champagne and strawberries dipped in chocolate.

Recently, Charney's husband, Melvin Charney, an artist, architect, author and philosopher, and Phyllis Lambert, founder and director of the Canadian Centre for Architecture, were both named Commanders of the same order, at separate occasions.

Lambert had previously been an Officer of the order for five years.

The Blue Metropolis Festival, taking place at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, 1255 Jeanne Mance St., ends today. Events begin at 10 a.m.; starting time of the final events is 4 p.m. Tickets are available on site or through Admission, (514) 790-1245 or www.admission. com, or at www.bluemetropolis.org.

pdonnell@thegazette.canwest.com
© The Gazette (Montreal) 2006