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Irving Layton.

Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, c1982.
232pp, paper, $12.95.
ISBN 0-7710-4916-1.

Grades 11 and up.
Reviewed by .

Volume 11 Number 3.
1983 May.

It seems ironic to regard a volume by Irving Layton as cautious and conservative. But the wheel has come full circle.

The poems of A Wild Peculiar Joy will mostly either duplicate a forthcoming new volume, duplicate the poems of a selection of 1971, or triplicate the poems of the collected selection of 1965. In the selections covering the previously uncol-lected span, Layton gives us no new stances, hardly a new subject, little new craft apart from some adroitness with the contemporary fast-food variety of flat, straight statement. In such a context, the poet seems a publisher's accomplice, a seal with a ball on its nose turning predictable turns.

Yet, the old familiar material in this book is strong enough and the new so consistent with the old, A Wild Peculiar Joy is enjoyable. In fact, these 150 poems make up as solid a demonstration of Layton at his best as any volume in existence.

Layton strikes a sharp and consistent image. He is a unique amalgam of types: earthy old man, self-conscious poet, indignant Jew. He has us picturing girls, women, crones carnally or sentimentally or angrily, always with himself at a corner of the frame. He alludes to poets and talks of poetry, focuses equally on the process and the poses. He spits rage at the initiators of the holocaust and the indifferent observers. He is bitter, witty, gentle as the situation dictates, but always direct, always recognizable.

The major focal poems of Layton's career are included. Readers will look for and find the birthday candles, the binoculars, the bull calf, the tall man, and brother Jesus. The new focal emphasis is interesting. "A Wild Peculiar Joy" shows King David out of step with the common run of humanity, valorous and drunken, singing boisterous hymns. But it is not King David alone, it is clearly Irving Lay-ton we are intended to see "dancing in the pride of life."

By ordering the poems generally by publication dates, McClelland and Stewart encourage us to review the poet's development. The major stances are evident by 1945. Layton has held to his image with a vengeance ever since.

Tony Cosier, Confederation H. S., Nepean, ON.
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