LAYTON READS LAYTON
Karlay Productions, 1981.
Karlay Productions, 1981.
Volume 12 Number 3
To hear Irving Layton read his poems aloud and explain their derivation is a poetry reader's true delight. Only in our century can the marvel of recorded voices bring us the poet's true sound and intonation and forever preserve the passion, subtlety, and excitement of his or her rhythms. To hear Dante read The Divine Comedy or Shakespeare, Hamlet! These masters cannot, alas, influence us now except through the printed page or other interpreters, but Layton adds layers of meaning and humour to his verse that not only we can enjoy, but future generations as well.
This disc was recorded prior to the traumatic events surrounding Layton's fourth marriage, which resulted in the volume entitled, The Gucci Bag,* and the general tone of these poems is lighter, funnier, and less cynical than those in the later work. Layton, speaking before a live audience in Sault Ste. Marie shares very personal memories of his mother on her death bed, his senile sister, his lovely guitarist daughter Naomi, his dear stunning friend Musha, and a variety of the other women who have affected his life.
In the first poem, "There Were No Signs," Layton offers a glimpse of his outlook on life, "By walking I found out where I was going/By intensely hating, how to love." In a title taken from his inspiration, Friedrich Nietzsche, "The Birth of Tragedy," Layton explores another aspect of his philosophy, the duality of all things: light and dark, motion and rest, reason and energy, male and female. Layton tells his audience in the introduction to the poem that "the poet who is more full of contradictions (than any other) becomes a spokesman for this antinomial cosmos." Layton fulfils this role: his poems brim with the most intense degrees of love and hate, worship and curses, ridicule and praise. Most people, particularly Canadians according to Layton, neither express the extremes of these emotions nor are steadfast about their objects. Conversely, Lay-ton knows and damns or deifies in a phrase, "I marvel at a serenity that has endured wars and holocausts" and describes himself as "A cynical aging Jew who knows much about/man's incurable viciousness and brutality/their sodden penchant for evil" (Father and Daughter).
Taken from poems written between 1956 and 1981, this record revels in Layton's ability to soothe us with all the passion of life striving towards perfection, without letting us forget that "For the squashed and depleted/there's no greater happiness/than wiping out another mortal or humiliating him."
An important addition to collections of literature on disc.
*Reviewed vol. XII/2 March 1984, p.72.
Sharon Singer, Toronto, ON.
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