Looking back at Irving Layton's legacy

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This archival feature originally aired on January 5, 2006 on The Arts Tonight.


From his humble beginnings as a child from Romania, Irving Layton became Canada's leading voice in poetry in the 1950s, '60s and '70s. He was part of a group of poets that included Louis Dudek and Raymond Souster and he inspired a younger generation of poets that included Leonard Cohen.

Born March 12, 1912, Layton immigrated to Canada when he was only a year old. He grew up in a poor Montreal neighbourhood near St. Urbain Street. His poetry career began during his studies at McGill University, and his first published poem appeared in The McGilliad in the1930s.

Layton's poems, passionate and erotically charged, grabbed public attention and his outspoken persona made him a celebrity. Cohen once said of Layton, "I taught him how to dress, and he taught me how to live forever."

Layton would go on to publish more than 40 books of poetry, including A Red Carpet for the Sun, which won the Governor General's Award in 1959. He was a confident writer, once claiming, "I am a genius who has written poems that will survive the best of Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Keats."

In the audio clip above, Eleanor Wachtel looks back on Irving Layton's life and legacy in a segment from The Arts Tonight which aired the day after Layton's death on January 4, 2006.

Photo above: One of the last photos taken of poet Irving Layton, who died at 93 on Jan. 4, 2006. (Ivy Gooden/Canadian Press).