Layton, Irving (Peter) 1912-

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LAYTON, Irving (Peter) 1912-

PERSONAL: Original surname, Lazarovitch; name legally changed; born March 12, 1912, in Neamtz, Romania; immigrated to Canada, 1913; son of Moses and Keine (a grocery store operator; maiden name, Moscovitch) Lazarovitch; married Faye Lynch, September 13, 1938 (marriage ended); married Frances Sutherland, September 13, 1946 (marriage ended); married Aviva Cantor (a writer of children's stories), September 13, 1961 (marriage ended); married Harriet Bernstein (a publicist; divorced, March 19, 1984); married Anna Pottier, November 8, 1984; children: (second marriage) Max Rubin, Naomi Parker; (third marriage) David Herschel; (fourth marriage) Samantha Clara. Education: McDonald College, B.S., 1939; McGill University, M.A., 1946.

ADDRESSES: Home—6879 Monkland Ave., Montreal, Quebec H4B 1J5, Canada. Agent—Lucinda Vardey Agency, 297 Seaton St., Toronto M5A 2T6, Canada.

CAREER: Jewish Public Library, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, lecturer, 1943-58; high school teacher in Montreal, 1945-60; Sir George Williams University (now Sir George Williams Campus of Concordia University), Montreal, lecturer, 1949-65, poet in residence, 1965-69; University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada, poet in residence, 1969-70; York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, professor of English literature, 1970-78; poet. University of Ottawa, poet in residence, 1978; Concordia University, Montreal, poet in residence at Sir George Williams Campus, 1978, adjunct professor, 1988, writer in residence, 1989; University of Toronto, writer in residence, 1981. Military service: Canadian Army, Artillery, 1942-43; became lieutenant.

MEMBER: PEN, Canadian Civil Liberties Union, Istituto Pertini (Florence, Italy; honorary member).

AWARDS, HONORS: Canada Foundation fellow, 1957; Governor-General's Award, 1959, for A Red Carpet for the Sun; Canada Council, awards, 1959 and 1960, Special Arts Award, 1963 and 1968, senior arts fellowship and travel grant, 1973 and 1979, long term arts award, 1979-81; President's Medal, University of Western Ontario, 1961, for poem "Keine Lazarovitch 1870-1959"; Prix Litteraire de Quebec, 1963, for Balls for a One-Armed Juggler; Centennial Medal, 1967; D.C.L., Bishops University, 1970, and Concordia University, 1976; member of Order of Canada, 1976; Life Achievement Award, Encyclopedia Brittanica, 1978; nominated for Nobel Prize by Italy and South Korea, 1982, again by Italy, 1983.


poetry, except as indicated

Here and Now, First Statement (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1945.

Now Is the Place (poetry and short stories), First Statement (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1948.

The Black Huntsmen, privately printed, 1951.

Love the Conqueror Worm, Contact (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1951.

(With Louis Dudek and Raymond Souster) Cerberus, Contact (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1952.

In the Midst of My Fever, Divers (Palma de Mallorca, Spain), 1954.

The Long Peashooter, Laocoon (Boulder, CO), 1954.

The Cold Green Element, Contact (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1955, Italian translation from the English published as Il Freddo verde elemente, Editore Einaudi (Turin, Italy), 1974.

The Blue Propeller, Contact (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1955.

The Bull Calf, Contact (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1956.

Music on a Kazoo, Contact (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1956.

The Improved Binoculars, introduction by William Carlos Williams, J. Williams (Highlands, NC), 1956.

A Laughter in the Mind, J. Williams (Highland, NC), 1958.

A Red Carpet for the Sun, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1959.

The Swinging Flesh (poetry and short stories), McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1961.

Balls for a One-Armed Juggler, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1963.

The Laughing Rooster, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1964.

Collected Poems, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1965.

Periods of the Moon, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1967.

The Shattered Plinths, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1968.

Selected Poems, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1969.

The Whole Bloody Bird: Obs, Aphs, and Pomes, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1969.

Nail Polish, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1971.

The Collected Poems of Irving Layton, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1971.

Lovers and Lesser Men, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1973.

The Pole-Vaulter, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1974.

Seventy-five Greek Poems, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1974.

The Darkening Fire: Selected Poems, 1945-1968, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1975.

The Unwavering Eye: Selected Poems, 1969-1975, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1975.

For My Brother Jesus, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1976.

The Covenant, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1977.

The Collected Poems of Irving Layton, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1977.

The Uncollected Poems of Irving Layton, 1936-1959, Mosaic Press (Oakville, Ontario, Canada), 1977.

The Selected Poems of Irving Layton, New Directions Publishing (New York, NY), 1977.

The Tightrope Dancer, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1978.

(With Carlo Mattioli) Irving Layton, Carlo Mattioli, Edizioni (Milan, Italy), 1978.

The Love Poems of Irving Layton, (deluxe edition), McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1979, regular edition, 1980.

Droppings from Heaven, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1979.

For My Neighbors in Hell, Mosaic Press (Oakville, Ontario, Canada), 1980.

Europe and Other Bad News, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1981.

In un'eta di ghiaccio (bilingual; title means "In an Ice Age"), 1981.

A Wild Peculiar Joy, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1982.

Shadows on the Ground (portfolio), Valley Editions (Oakville, Ontario, Canada), 1982.

The Gucci Bag, Mosaic Press (Oakville, Ontario, Canada), 1983.

The Love Poems of Irving Layton, with Reverence and Delight, Valley Editions (Oakville, Ontario, Canada), 1984, reprinted, 2003.

A Spider Danced a Cosy Jig, Stoddart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1984.

(With Salvatore Fiume) A Tall Man Executes a Jig (portfolio), 1985.

Selected Poems, [Seoul, South Korea], 1985.

Where Burning Sappho Loved, [Athens, Greece], 1985.

Dance with Desire: Love Poems, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1986, revised edition published as Dance with Desire: Selected Love Poems, Porcupine's Quill (Erin, Ontario, Canada), 1993, bilingual Italian-English edition published as Danza di desiderio, Editore Piovan (Albano, Italy), 1993.

Final Reckoning: Poems, 1982-1986, Valley Editions (Oakville, Ontario, Canada), 1987.

Fortunate Exile, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1987.

A Wild Peculiar Joy: Selected Poems, 1945-1989, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1989.

Tutto sommato poesie, 1945-1988 (bilingual Italian-English edition), 1989.

Fornalutx: Selected Poems, 1928-1990, McGill-Queen's University Press (Kingston, Ontario, Canada), 1992.

Il Cacciatore sconcertato (bilingual Italian-English edition), Longo (Ravenna, Italy), 1993.


Engagements: The Prose of Irving Layton, edited by Seymour Mayne, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1972.

Taking Sides (prose), McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1977.

(With Dorothy Rath) An Unlikely Affair: The Irving Layton-Dorothy Rath Correspondence, Valley Editions (Oakville, Ontario, Canada), 1980.

(With David O'Rourke) Waiting for the Messiah: A Memoir, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1985.

Wild Gooseberries: Selected Letters of Irving Layton, 1939-89, edited by Francis Mansbridge, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1989.

(With Robert Creeley) Irving Layton & Robert Creeley: The Complete Correspondence, University of Toronto Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1990.


(With Louis Dudek) Canadian Poems, 1850-1952, Contact (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1952, 2nd edition, 1953.

Pan-ic: A Selection of Contemporary Canadian Poems, Alan Brilliant, 1958.

(And author of introduction) Poems for Twenty-seven Cents, [Montreal, Quebec, Canada], 1961.

Love Where the Nights Are Long: Canadian Love Poems, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1962.

Anvil: A Selection of Workshop Poems, [Montreal, Quebec, Canada], 1966.

(And author of introduction) Anvil Blood: A Selection of Workshop Poems, [Toronto, Ontario, Canada], 1973.

Shark Tank, [Toronto, Ontario, Canada], 1977.

Rawprint, Workshop, Concordia University (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1989.

Poetry represented in numerous anthologies, including, Book of Canadian Poetry, edited by A. J. M. Smith, Gage (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1948; Oxford Book of Canadian Verse, edited by A. J. M. Smith, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1960; How Do I Love Thee: Sixty Poets of Canada (and Quebec) Select and Introduce Their Favourite Poems from Their Own Work, edited by John Robert Colombo, M. G. Hurtig (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada), 1970; and Irving Layton/Aligi Sassu Portfolio, 1978. Author of introduction, Poems to Colour: A Selection of Workshop Poems, York University (Downsview, Ontario, Canada), 1970. Contributor of poetry to various periodicals, including Poetry, Canadian Forum, and Sail.

Fiction represented in anthologies, including Book of Canadian Stories, edited by D. Pacey, Ryerson (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1950; and Canadian ShortStories, edited by R. Weaver and H. James, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1952. Contributor of short stories to periodicals.

Cofounder and editor, First Statement and Northern Review, between 1941 and 1943; associate editor, Contact, 1952-54; past associate editor, Black Mountain Review, and several other magazines.

Layton's writings have been translated into more than ten languages, including Italian and Spanish. His papers are housed at the library of Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

ADAPTATIONS: Layton's poetry has been released on several audio recordings.

SIDELIGHTS: A controversial and outspoken literary figure, Irving Layton is known for writing energetic, passionate, and often angry verse. In an attempt to "disturb the accumulated complacencies of people," Layton confronts what he views as sources of evil in the twentieth century, suggesting that these "malignant forces" have contributed to moral and cultural decay in the modern world. A prolific writer, Layton has published nearly fifty volumes of poetry in as many years, with verse ranging, as noted Canadian critic George Woodcock wrote in his book Odysseus Ever Returning: Essays on Canadian Writers and Writing, "from the atrocious to the excellent."

Layton was born in Romania to Jewish parents and immigrated to Canada with his family at age one. His father Moses was a religious man whom Layton has described as "a visionary, a scholar"; his mother, Keine, supported the family by running a small grocery store. In 1939 Layton received a bachelor's degree from McDonald College, and in 1946 he earned a master's degree in economics and political science from McGill University. While living in Montreal in the early 1940s, Layton, along with Louis Dudek and John Sutherland, began editing First Statement; some of his earliest poems were published in this literary journal which highlighted the work of young Canadian writers and emphasized the social and political aspects of Canadian life. Layton published his first volume of poetry, Here and Now, in 1945. His earliest volumes met with minimal success, but in the 1950s, according to Ira Bruce Nadel in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, "Layton discovered a voice that could unite his skeptical vision and energetic, provocative language." A Red Carpet for the Sun, which included some of his best-known poems from previous volumes, proved to be his first major success, earning him popular praise as well as the Governor-General's Award for Poetry in 1959. At this time he became what Tom Marshall called in Harsh and Lovely Land an "unusual phenomenon—a genuinely popular poet." Layton went on to write several more collections of verse over the next thirty years, maintaining a consistent thematic approach as well as exhibiting a forthright and contentious public personality.

Many critics have discussed Layton as a romantic poet in the tradition of William Blake and Walt Whitman; he explores elemental passions, exalts the individual— particularly the poet—and examines the relationship between the physical and the spiritual. In his works he rails against social injustice, identifying keenly with the helpless and innocent; as a result many of his poems feature images of trapped and wounded animals. Constituting a significant portion of his oeuvre, his love lyrics—sensual, erotic, and explicitly sexual—are intended to shock a Puritanical society, and their effectiveness is due in part to the juxtaposition of images of love and beauty with those of violence and death. Thus, in his poetry of liberation, Layton challenges what he views as the unhealthy gentility and complacency of Canadian society. A number of Layton's poems deal with his approach to religion. Layton's view of organized religion as a source of evil and corruption dating from ancient times to the present day has aroused controversy among his readers. Particularly controversial are some of the poems in For My Brother Jesus in which he suggests that, "by publicizing a stereotype of the Jew for nearly two thousand years," Christendom "prepared the soil on which the death camps and the crematoria could spring-up and flourish." Layton explores the horrors of the Holocaust in a number of works, including "For Anne Frank" and "The Final Solution." Commentators noted that, beginning with Balls for a One-Armed Juggler, Layton became increasingly concerned with addressing what he has described as "the exceptionally heinous nature of twentieth-century evil," citing the Holocaust as a primary example. He offers poetry as a means of salvation, however, and asserts that the poet has an obligation to address social ills in an attempt to counteract corruption, greed, and complacency.

A number of critics have commented on Layton's poetic mission. Several commentators, however, praised Layton's vitality, power, and range. While many critics acknowledge Layton's role in broadening Canadian literary standards to include sexually explicit imagery, his erotic love poetry—and his views on women in general—have aroused considerable indignation. Some scholars asserted that his love poems do not, as Layton has asserted, celebrate sexual love. Many of Layton's love poems are collected in Dance with Desire, published in 1986 and in a revised edition in 1993.

Layton once told CA: "One of my sisters thought I should be a plumber or an electrician; another saw in me the ability to become a peddler; my third and oldest sister was sure I was devious and slippery enough to make a fine lawyer or politician. My mother, presiding over these three witches, pointed to the fly-spotted ceiling, indicating God by that gesture, and said, 'He will be what the Almighty wants him to be.'

"My devout mother turned out to be right. From earliest childhood I longed to match sounds with sense; and when I was older, to make music out of words. Everywhere I went, mystery dogged my steps. The skinny dead rat in the lane, the fire that broke out in our house on Sabbath eve, the energy that went with cruelty and the power that went with hate. The empty sky had no answers for my queries and the stars at night only winked and said nothing.

"I wrote my first poem for a teacher who was astonishingly beautiful. For weeks I mentally drooled over the white cleavage she had carelessly exposed to a precocious eleven-year-old. So there it was: the two grand mysteries of sexuality and death. I write because I'm driven to say something about them, to celebrate what my limited brain cannot comprehend. To rejoice in my more arrogant moods to think the Creator Himself doesn't comprehend His handiwork. I write because the only solace He has in His immense and eternal solitude are the poems and stories that tell Him—like all creators, He too is hungry for praise—how exciting and beautiful, how majestic and terrible are His works and to give Him an honest, up-to-date report on His most baffling creation, Man. I know whenever I put in a good word for the strange biped He made, God's despair is lessened. Ultimately, I write because I am less cruel than He is."



Bennet, Joy, and James Polson, Irving Layton: A Bibliography, 1934-1977, Concordia University Libraries (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1979.

Burgess, G. C. Ian, Irving Layton's Poetry: A Catalogue and Chronology, McGill University (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1974.

Cameron, Elspeth, Irving Layton: A Portrait, Stoddart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1985.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 2, 1974, Volume 15, 1980.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 88: Canadian Writers, 1920-1959, Second Series, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1989.

Dudek, Louis, Selected Essays and Criticism, Tecumseh Press (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada), 1978.

Francis, Wynne, Irving Layton and His Works, ECW Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1984.

Layton, Irving, For My Brother Jesus, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1976.

Layton, Irving and David O'Rourke, Waiting for the Messiah: A Memoir, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1985.

Mandel, Eli, Irving Layton, Forum House Publishing (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1969, revised edition published as The Poetry of Layton, 1981.

Marshall, Tom, Harsh and Lovely Land, University of British Columbia Press (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 1979.

Mayne, Seymour, editor, Irving Layton: The Poet and His Critics, McGraw Hill/Ryerson Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1978.

Meyer, Bruce, and Brian O'Riordan, In Their Words: Interviews with Fourteen Canadian Writers, House of Anansi Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1984.

Rizzardi, Alfredo, editor, Italian Critics on Irving Layton, Editore Piovan (Albano, Italy), 1988.

Woodcock, George, Odysseus Ever Returning: Essays on Canadian Writers and Writing, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1970, pp. 76-92.


Books in Canada, April, 1993, p. 54; March, 2003, Chris Jennings, review of The Love Poems of Irving Layton, with Reverence and Delight, pp. 39-40.

Canadian Forum, June, 1969; February-March, 1989, p. 28.

Canadian Literature, autumn, 1962, pp. 21-34; spring, 1972, pp. 102-104; autumn, 1972, pp. 70-83; winter, 1973, pp. 12-13, 18; winter, 1980, pp. 52-65; autumn, 1992, p. 138; autumn, 1993, p. 150.

Fiddlehead, spring, 1967; summer, 1967.

Maclean's, November 19, 1990, p. 45.

Mosaic, January, 1968, pp. 103-111.

New Republic, July 2, 1977.

New York Times Book Review, October 9, 1977.

Queen's Quarterly, winter, 1955-1956, pp. 587-591.

Quill & Quire, July, 1993, p. 46.

Record (Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada), November 2, 1984.

Saturday Night, April, 1988, p. 59; March, 1996, p. 32.

Village Voice, March 31, 1966.

Waves, winter, 1987, pp. 4-13.*


Poet: Irving Layton Observed (video cassette), directed by Donald Winkler, National Film Board of Canada, 1986.

A Tall Man Executes a Jig (video cassette; documentary on Layton), directed by Donald Winkler, National Film Board of Canada, 1986.