Thursday, October 01, 2009

Layton out Loud TONIGHT at Concordia!

Hi Layton fans,

Sorry this is a little late but there is a wonderful event called Layton Out Loud hosted by Concordia at 6pm EST at the Vanier Library -

Unfortunately I cannot attend as I am out of the country, however we would love to hear comments from those who attend!

Here is the article as linked to above:

Fifty archival boxes sit on the shelves of a fluorescently lit, climate-controlled storeroom in the Vanier Library. It’s a humble, eerily sterile home for the complete collected works of poet Irving Layton, a man remembered equally for his pride and fertile words.

It’s a backdrop seemingly too poetically rich for him to withhold comment on, even posthumously. On the top shelf rest two busts of Layton – one, eyes open and smiling; the other, eyes closed and sombre – as if he were silently mulling over a poem about the life contained in these 50 boxes.

Quiet as it may be right now, his legacy is about to get louder.

At 6 p.m. on Oct. 1 at Vanier Library, Layton will be commemorated at Layton Out Loud, the homecoming event organized by the Special Collections team at Concordia Libraries to honour the man’s literary legacy and his lengthy relationship with Concordia.

Theatre professor and acting chair of the department Nancy Helms (left) coaches undergrad Shannon Hamilton during a rehearsal on Sept. 25 in VL-126. Hamilton will be interpreting Layton’s 1963 poem There Were No Signs at the event.

The collection (consisting of all his published works, letters, CBC interviews, 300 audio recordings, scrapbooks and all the drafts of his poems including some written on stray paperbags) has resided at Concordia for nearly 40 years.

The event will include an exhibit of selected works, an audio exhibit complete with MP3 players, and a colourful interpretation of Layton poems by three theatre students. This will be the second event honouring Layton this fall; on Sept. 26 and 27, Special Collections hosted the 26th Montreal Antiquarian Book Fair in the McConnell Atrium, which displayed early Layton manuscripts.

Layton taught creative writing part-time at SGW University from 1949-65 and became poet in residence from 1965-69. He made a jump to York University in 1970-78 to teach creative writing, but didn’t disconnect from Concordia completely.
In the early 70s, Layton began discussing with then-head of the reference department Jim Polson the possibility of housing all his material at Concordia. When Polson saw the amount of material Layton had, he hired English literature master’s student Joy Bennett to help organize the collection. Bennett went on to be a librarian and university administrator.

Although she wasn’t particularly familiar with Layton’s work, Bennett jumped at the chance to work with such a prominent figure.

Theatre student Alexandra Draghici rehearses the 1956 poem The Fertile Muck. “He believed in soulfulness, truth and passion. I think it’s important for someone to keep these things alive,” she says.

“Irving was larger than life. He was one of the most charismatic individuals I’d ever met,” she says. “He would show up unannounced with a gym bag full of his stuff, and the whole place would go abuzz.”

In 1974, an arrangement was formalized whereby he would donate or sell his manuscripts, correspondence and other related material to the Libraries’ Special Collections in the Norris Building. Extending beyond the library walls, Bennett says Layton was remarkably generous with his time, often arranging speaking engagements with students in creative writing.

His lengthy service and generosity was recognized with an honorary doctorate in 1976. Shortly thereafter, he returned to his Concordia duties as writer in residence, and was also made an adjunct English professor.

Over the years, Layton and Bennett grew close in friendship, transcending a strictly professional relationship. Roughly 20 years ago, Bennett decided to adopt a baby from Romania. Layton, who was born in the Romanian town of Tirgul Neamt in 1912, took personal interest in her plans. “He was thrilled,” she says. “He really thought that was special and it was something we shared. He always remembered his heritage.”

It was his openness and passion for life that kept their affinity for each other growing. In 1993, Bennett co-edited Raging Like a Fire (Véhicule Press), a collection of memoirs, letters and poems in honour of Layton. The book presented her with an opportunity for her own tribute; inspired by Layton’s profound ode to his daughter, Song for Naomi, Bennett penned a poem for her daughter. Her version, Song for Marian, graced Layton’s eyes for the first time as they presented the book to him at an event celebrating his 80th birthday. The celebration marked the beginning of a difficult period in time, Bennett reflects, as it became apparent his battle with Alzheimer’s had begun to take effect.

“It was kind of hard. I couldn’t bear to see him and know he wouldn’t know who I was,” she says. It was an ailment that would increasingly afflict him until his death at the age of 93 in Jan. 2006.

Today, the collection is being cared for by Digital and Special Collections Librarian Annie Murray – one of the key personalities in realizing the Layton Out Loud event. Like Bennett before her, Murray has both a BA and MA in English literature and had always been aware of Layton, but strangely had never examined his work. Stranger still, her exposure to Layton was limited to reading Song for Naomi in high school – the same poem that affected Bennett years before.

“It’s weird to be totally enmeshed in one person’s world. I’ve seen his handwriting, all his letters,” says Murray. “I never knew him, but I sort of know him. He’s like a powerful ghost.”

This summer, Murray contacted theatre professor and acting chair of the department Nancy Helms and asked her if she’d be interested in finding a few undergrads to perform Layton’s poetry for the event. Three stepped forward. Alexandra Draghici will be performing 1956’s The Fertile Muck, Shannon Hamilton will perform 1963’s There Were No Signs and Mireck Metelski, 1978’s Night Music.

“It’s neat because they chose the poems themselves, and each one spans different periods of his writing,” says Helms. “They each have different voices depending on where he was in his life.”

Helms has worked closely with the three over the latter half of the summer and into the fall to bring out their individual interpretations. How exactly the interpretation will unfold is as personal as the words being read. “My opinion is, ‘when it’s on the page, it’s up for grabs’,” she says.

Draghici, now in her last year, has had a long love for Layton, stretching all the way back to her childhood. “He’s part of my soul,” she says.

“When I think of him, I think of someone […] claiming his power and not having to work for it because of his intense presence. I think of somebody who isn’t perfect but probably stayed true to himself.”

For Bennett, the event marks a complete circle of sorts – a fitting tribute to someone who helped the school, the writing community and Canadian literature so much.

“I’m really pleased to see him truly appreciated.”


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