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Irving Layton (1912-       )

Irving Layton's parents brought him to Montreal from his birthplace inRomania when he was one year old. He earned a BSc. in agriculture from Macdonald College before briefly serving in the Canadian Army (1942-43) after which he did postgraduate work in economics and political science at McGill University. He obtained his M.A. in 1946, a year after publishing his first book, Here and Now (First Statement, 1945).

      Layton was appointed writer-in-residence at Sir George Williams University (now Concordia) in 1965 and at the University of Guelph in 1969. Between 1969 and his retirement from active teaching in 1978, he was professor of English at York University.

      As a poet, Layton was one of a number of younger writers contributing to John Sutherland's First Statement magazine, coming on board, with Louis Dudek, as an editor in 1943. He maintained his association through the magazine's merging with Patrick Anderson's Preview magazine in 1945 to become Northern Review until a disagreement over editorial policy led him to resign in 1951.

      In 1952 he founded Contact Press with Dudek and Toronto poet/editor Raymond Souster and stayed on as an editor until the late 1950s. Initially Contact Press devoted its energy and resources to publishing its three editors but it soon branched out to become Canada's premiere publisher of contemporary poetry. Layton was also influential, again with Dudek, in directing the editorial policy of Aileen Collins's literary journal CIV/n (named after Ezra Pound's signature diminutive for 'civilization').

      Layton turned down Charles Olson's invitation to serve on the faculty of Black Mountain College in 1955 and also to serve on the editorial board of The Black Mountain Review; but he began a long-standing relationship with American poets such as Olson, Robert Creeley (whose Divers Press in Mallorca brought out Layton's In the midst of my fever in 1954), Paul Blackburn, Jonathan Williams (whose Jargon Society published a number of Layton books, including The improved binoculars, A laughter in the mind, and A red carpet for the sun [also published by McClelland & Stewart in Canada]) and Cid Corman (for whom Layton edited the Canadian issue of the periodical Origin).

      Layton's influence on Canadian poetry as it turned its back on Victorian tradition after the Second World War is inestimable. Although he only published three books between 1945 and 1951 (Here and Now, Now is the place and The Black Huntsman) and contributed to the Contact Press anthology Cerberus, from 1953 on Layton was one of Canada's most prolific poets, publishing, on average, a book per year until the mid 1980s.

      Other books published by Layton include Love the conqueror worm (1953); The long pea-shooter (1954); The cold green element (1955); The blue propeller (1955); The bull calf and other poems (1956); The swinging flesh (1961); Balls for a one-armed juggler (1963); The laughing rooster (1964); Periods of the moon (1967); The shattered plinths (1968); The whole bloody bird (1969); Nail polish (1971); Lovers and lesser men (1973); The pole vaulter (1974); For my brother Jesus (1976) The covenant (1977); The tightrope dancer (1978); Droppings from heaven (1979); For my neighbours in Hell (1980); Europe and other bad news (1981); and A wild peculiar joy (1982).

      Layton was also the editor of a number of anthologies, including Canadian poems: 1850-1952 (1952) with Louis Dudek; Pa-nic: a selection of contemporary Canadian poems (1958); and Love where the nights are long (1962).