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Introducing Irving Layton's Last Poem
by Donald Winkler

I found this in Box 31 of the Layton collection at Concordia University in Montreal. A clutch of pages stapled together; multiple drafts of a poem Irving Layton began, but never completed, towards the end of his writing. An invocation to the muse who was abandoning him. Twenty-five lines on lined paper, in the cramped handwriting of his old age, both neat, and, paradoxically, difficult to decipher. It was dated, with a question mark, early in 1989. Less than four years, then, after I had filmed him happily scribbling poems amid the ruins in his beloved Greece, for my film Poet: Irving Layton Observed. Now, in 2001, I was trolling the archives seeking visual material for a new documentary on the poet's life. What struck me immediately was that the power was still there, even as the poet felt it slipping away: "my scribbles are pale as a watermark." And the voice. This is no self-pitying plaint. It is the poet standing up to his muse and speaking his mind the way the Biblical prophets he so admired stood up to their God. Jocular, prodding, the poem, even in its uncertain state, gives forth the same wounded majesty as those ruins among which Layton paced, mouthing verse, almost 20 years ago.

Donald Winkler's film, A Red Carpet for the Sun: The Life of Irving Layton, was first broadcast on CBC TV's Life and Times last November. A longer version has since been completed, and will be available soon.

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