CM Archive
CM Archive Book Review line

Layton, Irving.

Illustrations by Miro Malish. Don Mills (Ont.), Stoddart, c1984. unpaged, paperbound boards, $9.95, ISBN 0-7737-0079-X. CIP

Grades 9 and up
Reviewed by Fran Newman

Volume 13 Number 1
1985 January

Fact: Irving Layton is a respected Canadian poet.
Fact: These poems were all originally published for adults.
Fact: Elspeth Cameron, professor of English at the University of Toronto is the editor of the collection of poems.
Fact: Illustrations were done by Miro Malish.
Opinion: "This is a book for poetry lovers of all ages" (from the back cover).

I disagree with the opinion statement and so do a group of bright grade 5s, all of whom love poetry. They disliked the poems, with comments ranging from "awful" to "some are okay" when I read them all without comment. While a few titters greeted the illustrations, most of these students disliked them. Grade 8s could find more in the poetry, and many more found the illustrations interesting. What Miro Malish has done is to take each of Layton's poems about a creature (spider, squirrel, calf, King Kong, peacock) and put human facial features on his drawings for each animal. I dislike the illustrations; a visiting parent found them "frightening." I wonder how Layton feels about the drawing of the calf that accompanies the poem, "The Bull Calf." This is an extremely powerful poem and one I chose for the anthology Round Slice of Moon*. The accompanying picture shows a cartoon-type calf with a brightly lip-sticked mouth (human), a fringe of bang, and a large bell hanging from its neck. I find that a travesty. The other poem I like very much ("Greetings") is found on the last page and has, thankfully, no drawing to spoil the image.

There is a great mood/ of darkness in the poems. From "Fish";
severe and bitter are their disappointed mouths.

I have a resistless desire to crush them underfoot.

"If Whales Could Think on Certain Happy Days":
Just then the harpoon slammed into his side.

Layton's vocabulary, chosen for adults, is very difficult for children. They understood none of "The Perverse Gulls," did not get the meaning of "A Spider Danced a Cosy Jig," and what, pray tell, is valetudinarian?

All in all, I found this book disturbing. I would certainly not buy it for my library, and I wonder how many parents would pay ten dollars to purchase it for a child.

Fran Newman, Spring Valley P.S., Brighton, Ont.

*Reviewed vol. VIII/4 Autumn 1980 p.247.

line indexes


1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995


The materials in this archive are copyright © The Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission Copyright information for reviewers

Young Canada Works