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The forewords to Layton's books of poetry offer great insight into his thinking about poetry and the place of the poet in society. Here are a few excerpts:


  • Poetry, by giving dignity and utterance to our distress, enables us to hope, makes compassion reasonable.
                         —("Foreword," A Red Carpet for the Sun, 1959)


  • So what I've written ... has been about this singular business of human evil; the tension between Hebrew and pagan, between the ideal and real. The disorder and glory of passion. The modern tragedy of the depersonalization of men and women.
                         —("Foreword," A Red Carpet for the Sun, 1959)


  • The truth is this: instead of remembering they are prophets and the descendants of prophets, the poets have swapped roles with entertainers and culture-peddlers. They have refused the crown of thorns.
                         —("Foreword," Balls for a One-Armed Juggler, 1963)


  • I now see there is no way for the poet to avoid misunderstanding, even abuse, when he follows his prophetic vocation to lead his fellowmen towards sanity and light. If he offers his hand in friendship and love, he must expect someone will try to chop it off at the shoulder. ... A poet is someone who has a strong sense of self and feels his life to be meaningful.
                         —("Foreword," Collected Poems, 1965)


  • Joy, fullness of feeling, is the core of the creative mystery. My dominant mood is that of ecstacy and gratitude.
                         —("Foreword," Collected Poems, 1965)


  • My country has been an immense tree on the summit of a sunswept hill from which I plucked hundreds of poems or waited confidently under its boughs for them to fall like heavy fruit into my open lap.
                         —("Foreword," The Collected Poems of Irving Layton, 1971)


  • Poets of other countries might break down; rage and even whimper at the glaring evidences this century has presented of man's incurable viciousness and inhumanity. But Canadian poets are made of sterner stuff.
                         —("Foreword," Droppings from Heaven, 1979)


  • I want to be remembered as someone who believed that a great poem was the noblest work of man and that no one ever wrote one who didn't want to get out of hell.
                         —("Foreword," Droppings from Heaven, 1979)


  • The poet is someone who can't help mythologizing his experiences. He exaggerates, distorts, fictionalizes. In him the will-to-power takes the form of investing even the trifling and banal with symbolic significance. But the poet is also someone who makes lucky things happen, for his life is a destiny or a destination.
                         —("Foreword," The Gucci Bag, 1983)


Irving Layton's works copyright © to the author.


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