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Author Topic: Poet Irving Layton dead at 93
Jimmy Brogan
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posted 04 January 2006 10:43 PM      Profile for Jimmy Brogan   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Poet Irving Layton dead at 93

quote:
Jan. 4, 2006. 09:19 PM
Philip Marchand

BOOKS COLUMNIST

Irving Layton, one of the first Canadian poets to gain international stature and a controversial presence on the national scene for decades, died in Montreal yesterday at the age of 93.
“He is our greatest poet, our greatest champion of poetry,” long-time friend Leonard Cohen proclaimed. “Alzheimer’s could not silence him and neither will death.”


Before Layton, Canadian poets tended to be regarded as tweedy romantics, celebrating nature in the Victorian tradition. of Victorian landscape verse. Layton changed all that. His poetry owed more to his childhood experience of his acid-tongued mother and the verbal combativeness of the Jewish immigrant community in Montreal than it did to Longfellow or Wordsworth. He was also the first Canadian literary figure to use the media as a vehicle of self-promotion.


Irving Layton was born in 1912, in Romania. His parents, Moishe and Klara Lazarovitch, immigrated to Montreal with their eight children a year later. Like another celebrated literary figure from Montreal, Mordecai Richler, the young Israel Lazarovitch grew up with an aggressive mother who dominated a weak-willed father. Throughout his life Layton retained the brittle self-confidence of a boy favoured by his mother over her own husband.



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deBeauxOs
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posted 04 January 2006 11:07 PM      Profile for deBeauxOs     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Like another celebrated literary figure from Montreal, Mordecai Richler, the young Israel Lazarovitch grew up with an aggressive mother who dominated a weak-willed father. Throughout his life Layton retained the brittle self-confidence of a boy favoured by his mother over her own husband.
Ah yes, the classic explanation for the fire in the belly, the "behind the great man stands a bad mother/wife" narrative.

Interesting that this archetype was gender-reversed and exploited for Sylvia Plath and her work, but was recently shown to be more nuanced than believed by the literary theorists. Makes you wonder about all those evil mother and wife figures that so 'tormented' their sons and husbands throughout history.

[ 04 January 2006: Message edited by: deBeauxOs ]


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lagatta
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posted 04 January 2006 11:11 PM      Profile for lagatta     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Certainly a life force, but probably in many ways a pig, to women (surprise!) and in political terms.

Thinking back to my late acquaintance Dan Daniels (a close friend of close friends, but I wouldn't claim to have known him so well) from the same background, who never sold out and sure as hell never supported the Vietnam War.

[ 04 January 2006: Message edited by: lagatta ]


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clersal
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posted 05 January 2006 12:20 AM      Profile for clersal     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I met him once at a party. My only impression was, "What a conceited man".
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FireWorks
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posted 05 January 2006 01:05 AM      Profile for FireWorks     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I don't know. My image of a dominating Jewish mother isn't necessarily an image of a bad mother.
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Hephaestion
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posted 05 January 2006 03:16 AM      Profile for Hephaestion   Author's Homepage        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I'm just surprised that The Puffster didn't breathlessly announce that Jack Layton was dead.


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skdadl
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posted 05 January 2006 07:58 AM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Before Layton, Canadian poets tended to be regarded as tweedy romantics, celebrating nature in the Victorian tradition. of Victorian landscape verse. Layton changed all that.

I'm all in favour of measured praise for Layton's genuine accomplishment, but lines like that (and I'm sure we'll hear many in the next few days) are absurd. Even Layton, who was capable of gross exaggeration of his own genius, would have known too much about his immediate predecessors, especially in Montreal, to make such a silly claim.

There is a typically sensible obit by Sandra Martin in today's Grope, as well as a clever little squib by Lynn Crosbie on two of Layton's poems, one of which, "Etruscan Tombs," is really quite wonderful. Perhaps Crosbie was a student of Layton's - I wouldn't have made the connection before, but that makes a certain sense.


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Catchfire
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posted 05 January 2006 09:55 AM      Profile for Catchfire   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
My partner used to live beside Layton in Niagara-on-the-Lake. He used to mow his lawn wearing only his underwear and his order of Canada around his neck.

Helluva poet, though.


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Peech
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posted 06 January 2006 07:39 PM      Profile for Peech   Author's Homepage        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by lagatta:
Certainly a life force, but probably in many ways a pig, to women (surprise!) and in political terms.Thinking back to my late acquaintance Dan Daniels (a close friend of close friends, but I wouldn't claim to have known him so well) from the same background, who never sold out and sure as hell never supported the Vietnam War.

From what I heard from very good and close sources is that Daniels was himself not exactly an evolved male (when it came to interaction with women.)


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lagatta
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posted 06 January 2006 07:49 PM      Profile for lagatta     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Oh, that is certainly possible, peech. By the time I knew Dan, he was quite elderly.

Unfortunately, treating women like toilet papwer was very much part of the poet's bravado, in Montréal (whether among Québécois de souche or St-Urbain Jewish poet groups; I'd met survivors of both) or elsewhere.

It took feminism to modify that somewhat, and alas, not nearly enough.


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clersal
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posted 06 January 2006 08:49 PM      Profile for clersal     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
From what I heard from very good and close sources is that Daniels was himself not exactly an evolved male (when it came to interaction with women.)

Since I was a close friend of Dan and still am with his wife Anne-Marie, I am curious about what you mean: interaction with women?
He definitely was not condescending with women.

[ 06 January 2006: Message edited by: clersal ]


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Zaklamont
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posted 07 January 2006 07:52 AM      Profile for Zaklamont        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
re: Stephen Marche literary obit. on cbc.ca

http://www.cbc.ca/arts/books/layton.html

Anyone who can write such an uninformed narrow literary obit on Irving Layton is a frightful liability to Canadian literature. As an example, nowhere is it written that Layton was twice nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature by Italian nominators.

As usual the CBC has a way of cutting its own throat, and, by proxy, that of Canada's and that of Canadians. In my opinion, this review only contributes to an image of the CBC as growingly deficient, with a hope that it again and soon becomes a vibrant broadcaster of the people and for the people of this country.

The CBC ought to hang its head in shame
for web publishing at the first announcement of Layton's death such a cartoonish, contemptuous, grotesque literary obituary. of one of Canada's greatest internationally renown
modern poets.


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lagatta
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posted 07 January 2006 08:17 AM      Profile for lagatta     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
What a dreadfully stupid obit!

The very first paragraph sets the tone:

quote:
Irving Layton died Wednesday at the age of 93 from Alzheimer’s in a geriatric home, an entirely unsuitable way for Irving Layton to die. He really should have gone off in the middle of a violent and elaborate sexual act, or interrupting a particularly solemn moment in a religious ceremony. Such a long, lingering cruel emptiness of a death flouts the symbolic vitality that filled the rest of his life to the brim, and which spilled over into his written works, some of the most passionate lyrics in English Canadian letters.

As if people had the choice! He's the one caught up in myth.

There is no question that Layton - like many artists, especially pre-feminist male artists - seems caught up in himself and tended to tread women badly, but that can't sum up a literary life.

Actually, the poem he cited about the Holocaust seems very lame, as compared to others Layton wrote on the same subject, and contemporary poetry elsewhere, in particular Paul Celan, in his Todesfuge (Death Fugue) and other poems. . (It is also historically inaccurate, as Jews were "gunners" in many revolutionary and resistance movements before the founding of Israel - read Isaac Babel's wonderful and terrifying book, Red Cavalry - but that is not a proper critique of a poem, I suppose).

But there is much that is lusty and alive in Layton's best poems, and he warrants a better review than this hack job.

[ 07 January 2006: Message edited by: lagatta ]


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skdadl
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posted 07 January 2006 08:21 AM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
On the one hand, Zaklamont, specifically as regards Marche's opening paragraph, I will temporarily join in your assessment: anyone who would use Alzheimer's as a negative metaphor in that way is deeply ignorant, intellectually flabby, and emotionally infantile. "An unsuitable way to die" - pffft! Who is still that stupid about death?

On the other hand, I think that some of Marche's flailing rhetoric is meant to compliment Layton on the grounds that no one would deny - his verve, his zest for life, and the courage it takes to live with any hedonistic flair at all in North America.

But Marche's concluding paragraphs are a fair assessment, I think, of Layton's middling achievements as a poet. Layton was not the major genius he thought he was, although the very public gesture, in a country fearful of genius, was useful, as Marche says. Layton's achievement was less literary than it was social, and there's nothing wrong with that.

I think this is well put:

quote:
In the 1950s, we desperately needed somebody to say that a Canadian could be a great writer, even if he could only do so by claiming that he himself was that great writer.

Quite. And obviously, he wasn't. Even among his own circle, Scott, Dudek, Klein, and the much younger Cohen are his equals or betters.

And I think it's fair to say that his attitude towards women was simply revolting.


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lagatta
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posted 07 January 2006 08:30 AM      Profile for lagatta     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
It is interesting to note that there was an analogous - but very different - poetic revolt against a constraining, hidebound society in Francophone Montréal at the same time: Le Refus global of the Automatistes.

I am glad that all of this is getting people talking about the necessity of poetry.


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skdadl
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posted 07 January 2006 09:17 AM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
On the other thread (the general obit thread) I said and will repeat here that there is one woman, Musia Schwartz, a long-time friend of Layton's (not one of the wives), who deserves honour and tributes and concern right now.

When it became clear that Layton was ill and had been left alone by family, Schwartz stepped in, organized a group of friends to help, and took over his care.

Blessed woman. And may we all be so lucky.


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Brett Mann
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posted 07 January 2006 07:31 PM      Profile for Brett Mann        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Amen, Skdadl.
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