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Irving Layton.

Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, c1983.
136pp, paper, $9.95.
ISBN 0-7710-4917-X.

Grades 12 and up.
Reviewed by Sharon Singer.

Volume 12 Number 2
1984 March

In The Gucci Bag, Irving Layton, Canada's most popular poet, proves that at 71, he is still a fighter: outrageous, dynamic, erotic, controversial, and faithful to his vision of the poet as romantic hero. Layton bridges the dichotomy of being best known as a love poet with being a powerful and brilliant media spokesman for alternative values to those of our "sick culture." For Layton, Hell is "the bourgeois world with its contempt for the claims of beauty, justice, truth and compassion." Not poetry of the resolution of old age, this is the raging of a visionary who sees the way the world might be and despairs of its ever arriving there.

The title for this work was inspired by the gift of a Gucci bag that came to symbolize materialism to Layton. He nailed the bag to his outside house wall where "it hangs like a Transylvanian bat/to dismay the vampires of possessiveness." Layton believes that "the poet's journey is towards self-definition, (and) Gucci bags are an unnecessary encumbrance."

On one level, this book of 105 poems chronicles Layton's fourth marriage, and its traumatic aftermath; on another, it is a journey through the themes that emblazon his mental landscape: the power and beauty of sex and passion, the horror of death and decay, his fascination with the creative and resurrecting powers of women and their ability to destroy, "Which are you? Mary, mother of Jesus,/ or that other Mary, the scarlet Magdalene," as well as the false values of contemporary society and the duality of poetry itself, "I believed poetry/was the ecstasy of murder or sex ./Plainly I was wrong;/it's the constipated ruminations/ of castratos and pacifists." In the paradox of life, Layton's loves and hates are expressed with an intensity and a wild beauty rarely found in Canadian poetry.

George Woodcock, former editor of Canadian Literature has written, "Irving Layton takes his place with ease among the best poets writing in English today anywhere." Exciting, funny, harrowing, an emotional ride for the reader and an excellent source of debate material, The Gucci Bag is an important addition to any senior collection of Canadian poetry.

Sharon Singer, Toronto, ON.
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