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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Irving Layton, R. I. P.

Irving Layton died today, at 93. I have to say, I think most current (and previous) Canlit sucks, though Mordecai Richler could sometimes be great. The two Margarets -- Atwood and Laurence -- are both too smug to be readable. Reading The Stone Angel is actually a stomach-churning experience. Atwood wrote one good book, The Edible Woman, over thirty years ago, but I guess then decided she was an important feminist and Canadian nationalist with an important message for all of us to hear. Alice Munro is grossly overrated -- though I enjoyed that How I Met My Husband story.
But I love much of Layton's poetry. Some of his poems are vulgar, puerile, to be sure. (And yes, I know his politics were sophomoric, but he was a poet.) But so many of his poems are glorious. I think he wrote best about love, about frailty and about being Jewish. One also has to admire a man who irritated feminists so much (sort of the Serge Gainsbourg/Norman Mailer Syndrome). I think it's rather a scandal that his poems have disappeared pretty much from high school and university English lists, but this is no doubt due to political correctness. What a shame. His Eternal Recurrence is one of the best poems I know about heartache.
A few years ago, I was working with an elderly lady on her autobiography. She had had a five-decade journalism career, during the course of which she met many "lights" of Canlit. When she passed away (her autobiography unfinished) her family gave me a number of her autographed books. One was by Layton. For the life of me I can't make out most of the inscription. His handwriting was all over the map. There is some reference to the (1972?) election, and I can make out the "Much Love, Irving Layton."
In his memory, his Recipe for a Long and Happy Life:
Give all your nights
to the study of the Talmud
By day practice
shooting from the hip

Cross-posted at Wonkitties.

Posted by wonkitties on January 4, 2006 | Permalink


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Robertson Davies.


Posted by: Mark Collins | 2006-01-04 8:36:41 PM

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