One of Canada's most revered poets, Irving Peter Layton (born Israel Pincu Lazarovitch) was born on March 12th, 1912, in the Romanian town of Tirgul Neamt. According to testimonials surrounding his birth, he was born naturally circumcised which was a sign of divinity to orthodox Jews.

Layton's family moved to Montreal, Quebec, in 1913, and lived in the relatively poor neighbourhood of St. Urbain. After a childhood where he struggled through racism in his neighbourhood, his life was changed when he first heard the words to the Tennyson ballad, "The Revenge", in his 10th grade English class. According to Layton, he had "never heard the English language so beautifully read, so powerfully rendered" and remembers "sitting quietly in my seat and listening enraptured as the sounds filled the room".

From that point on, Layton became further influenced by writers such as Tennyson, Walter Scott, Byron, Shelly, Austen, George Eliot, Shakespeare, and even Marx and Nietszche. It was the writings of latter two that led him to identify himself as a socialist and join the New Democratic Party of Canada. He also joined the Young People's Socialist League and had many fierce debates with budding politicians of the time. It was because of his "radical" thinking that Layton was deemed a threat to the administration of the high school that he attended and he was forced to leave prior to graduating.

Layton then enrolled at MacDonald College in 1934 and worked his way towards a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture. During his time at MacDonald College, he wrote a column for the student newspaper "Failte Ye Times" and his left-wing politics came into full view. Because of these writings, he ended up being blacklisted from the U.S.A. in future years, a dishonour which lasted a full 15 years. Layton also participated heavily in the social and political debates of the time and his speaking skills were highly regarded by everyone, leading to a debate against the Oxford-Cambridge debating team which Layton and a schoolmate won.

After graduation from MacDonald, Layton served in the army for a brief time (1942-1943). During his time in the army, Layton met and married Betty Sutherland, an accomplished painter and poet. Betty's brother, John Sutherland, became a close friend of Layton's and together they published the journal, First Statement. It was Sutherland who introduced Layton to the writings of D.H. Lawrence. Layton became greatly influenced by the writings of Lawrence whose openness about sexuality led Layton to start writing similarly open love poems for which he would become most famous for.

After his army stint, Layton enrolled in a Masters program in Political Science at McGill University and graduated in 1946. Upon graduation, Layton taught courses at several locales. In 1949, he took up teaching English, History, and Political Science at Herzliah, a Jewish parochial high school. Layton became a very influential teacher and was well respected by his students, including Leonard Cohen and multimedia magnate Moses Znaimer.

Layton continued to teach elsewhere, including Sir George Williams University (now known as Concordia University) and York University. During this time, he became involved in the publication of Cerberus, a compilation of works from Louis Dudek, Souster, and Layton himself. The book remains an important one because it was written as a response to Cid Corman's Origin and to the influence that American poetry was having at the time. Layton then began to realize that he was part of a new movement in poetry - one that was moving away from the post World War I romanticism that had been dominant for so long.

And so began a prolific career as an author/poet. Throughout the years, Layton was on a steady pace, publishing a book almost every year which continued well into the 80's. His hectic professional life led to numerous marriages and divorces (married and divorced five times). Layton now resides in Montreal and still receives regular requests from publishers to reprint his work, making him one of the most published poets in North America.

Update 2006-01-05: Irving Layton passed away on Januuary 4th, 2006, at the age of 93 from complications related to Alzheimer's Disease.

Published Works

  • Now is the place. Montreal: First Statement Press, 1948
  • The black huntsmen: poems. Montreal, 1951
  • Love the conqueror worm. Toronto: Contact Press, 1953
  • The Long pea-shooter. Montreal : Laocoon Press, 1954
  • In the midst of my fever. Palma de Mallorca : Divers Press, 1954
  • The Blue propeller. Toronto: Contact Press, 1955
  • The Cold green element. Toronto: Contact Press, 1955
  • The bull calf and other poems. Toronto: Contact Press, 1956
  • The Improved binoculars : selected poems. Introduction by William Carlos Williams. 1956
  • Music on a kaxoo. Toronto: Contact Press, 1956
  • A laughter in the mind. Montréal : Éditions d'Orphée, 1959
  • A red carpet for the sun. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1960
  • The Swinging Flesh. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1961
  • Balls for a one-armed juggler. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1963
  • The Laughing Rooster. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1964
  • Collected Poems. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1965
  • Periods of the Moon: Poems. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1967
  • The Shattered Plinths. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1968
  • Selected poems. Edited with a preface by Wynne Francis. Toronto : McClelland and Stewart, 1969
  • The Whole bloody bird : (obs, aphs, and pomes). Toronto : McClelland and Stewart, 1969
  • Poems to Color. April 1970
  • Nailpolish. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1971
  • The Collected poems of Irving Layton. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1971
  • Lovers and Lesser Men. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1972
  • The pole-vaulter. Toronto, McClelland & Stewart, 1974
  • Seventy-five Greek poems, 1951-1974. Athens : Hermias Publications, 1974
  • The darkening fire; : selected poems, 1945-1968. With a preface by Wynne Francis Toronto : McClelland and Stewart, 1975
  • The unwavering eye : selected poems, 1969-1975. With a foreword by Eli Mandel. Toronto, McClelland & Stewart, 1975
  • The uncollected poems of Irving Layton : 1936-59. Edited with an afterword by W. David John; pref. by Seymour Mayne. Oakville, Ont. : Mosaic Press, 1976
  • For my brother Jesus. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1976
  • The selected poems of Irving Layton. Edited by Eli Mandel ; with an introd. by Hugh Kenner. New York : New Directions Pub. Corp., 1977
  • The covenant. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1977
  • The tightrope dancer. Toronto : McClelland and Stewart, 1978
  • Droppings from heaven. Toronto : McClelland and Stewart, 1979
  • with Carlo Mattioli. The tamed puma : Quattordici poesie e sette disegni ; traduzione di Francesca Valente. Toronto : Virgo, 1979
  • For my neighbours in hell. Oakville, Ont. : Mosaic Press, 1980
  • Europe and other bad news . Toronto : McClelland and Stewart, 1981
  • A wild peculiar joy : selected poems, 1945-82. Toronto : McClelland and Stewart, 1982
  • Shadows on the ground : a portfolio. Oakville, Ont. : Mosaic Press, 1982
  • The Gucci bag . Oakville, Ont. : Mosaic Press, 1983
  • The Love poems of Irving Layton : with reverence & delight. Oakville, Ont. : Mosaic Press, 1984
  • Fortunate exile. Toronto : McClelland and Stewart, 1987
  • Final reckoning : poems, 1982-1986. Oakville, Ont. : Mosaic Press, 1987
  • Dance with desire : selected love poems. Drawings by Richard Gorman . Erin, Ont. : Porcupine's Quill, 1992
100 Canadian Poets - Irving Layton - Profile

Canadian Poets - Irving Layton, Biography