Sunday, November 29, 2009

Poems Online

Four poems from Track & Trace are up on the CNQ site, along with a bunch of new content. Said content is also in the print issue, which hasn't found its way to my mailbox yet, but is on newsstands, I'm told. Highlights from my section are a couple of excellent reviews by Steve Noyes (of John Newlove's recently published selected) and Anita Lahey (of a new selection of writings by Gwendolyn MacEwen.

Pretty great, also, to hear that two pieces from CNQ made it into the inaugural Best Canadian Essays anthology. Haven't seen this book yet; a great idea.

Haven't had the chance to upload audio from Toronto yet. Couple of deadlines breathing down my neck; once I'm clear of 'em, I'll get right on it.

Friday, November 27, 2009


Had a wonderful time in Toronto; two great events and good times with friends new and old. I made recordings of both readings, which I'll upload once I get home. Off to catch a train. Toodle-oo.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Last minute reminder

I'm reading tonight in Toronto:

Wednesday, November 25, 6 pm: Biblioasis Poetry Bash

Ben McNally Books, 366 Bay St.

"Critics love poems about poetry, and love even better poems about poetics, as if they took more wisdom to write."

Thanks to Brian for pointing out this review, by the ever-controversial often perceptive William Logan, of Wallace Stevens' recent Selected. If this be "snark," then long live snark. In other words, I love critical writing like this, and if you don't, then it's probably because you haven't made adequate efforts to appreciate the critic's intention.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

More love for Seth

Definitely the first time a book of mine has been mentioned on a comics blog!

Monday, November 23, 2009

I can think of very little... add to Jacob Mooney's desiderata vis-a-vis reviewing. Well said.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Off to Toronto tomorrow for readings. If you can make it, bring a camera; you just might be able to snap a shot of me posing with a microphone!

Wednesday, November 25, 6 pm: Biblioasis Poetry Bash

Ben McNally Books, 366 Bay St.

Readings by Shane Neilson, Robyn Sarah and yours truly (Wayne Clifford was supposed to be there, but couldn't make it, so Shane and I will be reading a few of his poems instead)

Thursday, November 26, 7:30 pm: Livewords

Black Swan Pub, 154 Danforth Ave.

Readings by Pier Giorgio di Cicco, AF Moritz, Robyn Sarah and yours truly

Some love for Seth

Nice little blog note about the exceptionally fine design work on my book. Exactly what design should do: entice a potential reader to explore the contents.

Swing yer Partner Round and Round

Paul Vermeersch, who knows snark when he sees it and apparently has something against the autistic, but has never been able to own up to his own fundamentalism, has added his 22 cents worth and Brian Palmu, who owns his snark without shame or self-loathing, has responded.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Aesthetic Tribalism, the 1950s edition

I was going thru my archives today and came across this old essay of mine, which I wrote about nine years ago in grad school and which won me the Wynne Francis Prize for best essay on Canadian Poetry (there were two applicants and it was declared a tie). Since, you know, I haven't been talking enough about poetry lately, I thought I'd post it here. Not sure how well the formatting will translate, but I'm not about to try and de-bug it on blogger. Enjoy.

The Mountain Came to Him

Situating Irving Layton in the context of Black Mountain poetics

Abbreviations Used

BMR Black Mountain Review

IMF In the Midst of My Fever

LCC Irving Layton & Robert Creeley: The Complete Correspondence, 1953-1978

NAP The New American Poetry, 1945-1960

PV “Projective Verse”

RCS A Red Carpet for the Sun

SC Selected Poems: Robert Creeley

TIB The Improved Binoculars

WG Wild Gooseberries

In order to give the reader some sense of the history of the period and the primary alignment of the writers, I have adopted the unusual device of dividing the poets in five large groups, though these divisions are somewhat arbitrary and cannot be taken as rigid categories. ... The first group includes those poets who were originally closely identified with the two important magazines of the period, Origin and Black Mountain Review, which first published their mature work.

-Donald Allen, ”Preface,” The New American Poetry, 1945-1960

The “somewhat arbitrary” tendency of anthologists and academics to group writers by nation has, generally, been taken for granted as a necessity for reasons of expediency and economy.[1] And this principle could easily go unchallenged in the present instance, but for the presence of one poet: Irving Layton.[2] Although he was, and is, a Canadian, Layton’s involvement in the two Black Mountain organs Allen names was in many ways greater and more central than some of the poets Allen does include, such as Denise Levertov and Larry Eigner. But Allen should not bear the full brunt of blame for the lack of serious writing on Layton’s Black Mountaineering. Irving Layton’s life and works have been more often mauled than mulled over by his critics. His relationship with the Black Mountain poets has been, as a consequence, studiously ignored or glibly dismissed in this country[3], as it has in the United States because of Layton’s dubious “American”[4] status as a Canadian. Even Layton’s more serious critics tend to stop short of the 49th parallel when discussing the poet’s achievements.

Layton’s involvement with Black Mountain, however, came at the crest of both his own early career and those of his American contemporaries, Robert Creeley and Charles Olson.[5] Moreover, the Canadian’s contribution to the new American poetry was great[6]: he was, in his own words, “adopted as the white-haired boychick by the Black Mountain boys”(Quoted in Wiens 18). Why this was so is difficult to determine—and not merely due to questions of nationality. Whereas Olson and his projective cohorts stressed the importance of separating from established, or imposed, poetic traditions, Layton could, somewhat reductively but with no slight justice, be termed a traditional formalist in his approach. Also, whereas “Projective Verse” emphasized the importance of ego-less, “objectist”[7] creation, Layton’s egoism and egotism were already well-established facets of his poetic persona in 1953. His involvement in the Black Mountain movement, therefore, does much to problematise commonly-held notions of that group’s doctrinal coherence, even at its very core. His welcomed presence points out that Olson and Creeley’s “open verse” operates more as a positioning device, an index of orthodox views, than as a methodological doctrine of orthoprax composition.

Many of Layton’s Canadian critics are puzzled by his inclusion in an American avant-garde college. Wynne Francis, in an otherwise thoughtful and comprehensive study of Layton’s life and work, chooses to ignore his Black Mountaineering all but completely. Francis Mansbridge writes that “Layton described himself as ‘a reactionary at heart,’ but it’s hard—from the vantage point of forty years later—to see why his poetry should have been so enthusiastically embraced” by Black Mountain (Mansbridge 67).[8] Similarly, Elspeth Cameron tells us that “Creeley’s response to Layton’s work was amazing. Creeley’s poetry was not at all like Layton’s”(Cameron 209). She is right,[9] but does little by way of exploring this apparent conundrum. The warm reception that Layton and his poetry received from the American poets is somewhat baffling, but not as insoluble as Mansbridge and Cameron suggest.

A constellation of similar interests and stances first compelled Robert Creeley to write to Layton on February 17, 1953, praising the Canadian’s poetry and offering to publish a book for him (LCC 3). Probably most significant of these resemblances was a common ambivalence vis-à-vis the canon. The matter of tradition is often cited as a puzzling incongruity in the partnership of Layton and Creeley et al. Cameron, for example, points out that the latter’s forms were “cool, sparse, condensed” and “technically experimental”(Cameron 210). This is, if rather vague, a generally accurate assessment, as poems like “A Counterpoint”(NAP 78) demonstrate:

Let me be my own fool

of my own making, the sum of it

is equivocal.

One says of the drunken farmer:

leave him lay off it. And this is

the explanation.

Layton, by contrast, often employs inherited patterns of metre and rhyme in his work, as in this stanza from an early poem, “Mrs. Fornheim, Refugee”(RCS 4):

Very merciful was the cancer

Which first blinding you altogether

Afterwards stopped up your hearing;

At the end when Death was nearing,

Black-gloved, to gather you in

You did not demur, or fear

One you could not see or hear.

Layton, Wynne Francis tells us, “regards the new directions taken by contemporary poets as deadends [sic]. He prefers to associate himself only with the greatest poets of a tradition running from Homer to Yeats”(Francis 151). Creeley himself noted that Layton was “closer to an english [sic] ‘tradition,’” than he was, which heritage Layton used “as a point of departure” for his poems (LCC 12; April 26, 1953). And Cameron finds it odd that Creeley would have admired Layton’s work for its roots in the very tradition that the Black Mountain movement blamed for the sad state of American poetics (Cameron 210).

Both critics’ assessments, however, are simplistic reductions based on too rigid an interpretation of the somewhat arbitrary labels “avant-garde/experimental” and “formalist/traditional.”[10] If Creeley had an appreciation for Layton’s use of metrics, it was because he himself invested heavily in existing rhythmic models. George Butterick observes “how well grounded Creeley was in the inherited literary tradition,” and

how several of Creeley’s poems owe their success to a purposeful variation of traditional beginnings, and how even in his most personal lyrics he might introduce other men’s words, mostly in an effort to find an alternative to the dominant and oppressive forms of the day.(Butterick 119)

Butterick qualifies the above by saying that Creeley’s inscription of traditional forms often serves the ends of parody (124), but that “it is the more sober and deliberate adjustment of tradition that marks Creeley’s accomplishment: not simple irony or parody, but a dexterous mastery of all effects, as the occasions arise”(129).[11] Certainly, Creeley never adopts inherited forms chapter and verse, but neither does he throw them out with the bathwater of his poetic inheritance.

It is precisely this spirit of experimental adaptation that Creeley admired so much in the work of his Canadian friend: is that you can use these forms with a tenseness, and thus a ‘rightness,’ utterly the issue of your own emotions...I like your poems, anyhow, because you do damn well invest formal or traditional metrics ... with your own immediate presence. And you also experiment, within this area, to such an extent that you make a lot of so-called ‘avant-garde’ types look that much the sicker.(LCC 6-7; April 5, 1953)

Thus, for both Creeley and Layton—who equated restricting oneself to inherited verse patterns with using “the snotrag of someone else”(LCC 24; July 8, 1953)—traditional forms were not ends in themselves, but means towards the sincere expression of the poets’ own thoughts and emotions.[12] Their respective means of negotiating this common heritage, of expressing themselves poetically, were, for the most part, radically different, but their outlooks remarkably similar.

A shared perspective on form was not the only point of connection between Layton and the Americans—which should not be surprising, since form, according to Olson via Creeley, “IS NEVER MORE THAN AN EXTENSION OF CONTENT”(PV 387; emphasis in original). The Black Mountain concern with form was thus an extension of a concern with the overall social, political, intellectual, cultural climate of the western world.[13] Layton, in top form on New Year’s day of a crucial year for him and Creeley,[14] articulates it thus:

We’ve discussed it many times, and I know he [Louis Dudek] feels about you and what you are doing to make this a more civilized planet to live on pretty much as I do.[sic] All of us: Olson, Rexroth, Blackburn, Corman, Souster et al share a common outlook, a common philosophy, a kind of angry secularism, a poetic down-to-earthness which I think the healthiest thing to have come out of the war and as a result of it.(LCC 84; January 1, 1954)

Poets on both sides of the border were deeply concerned with what they perceived to be a pervasive atmosphere of genteel academicism and the ubiquitous influence of post-war mass consumer culture. They saw the bulk of poets—particularly those in the New Critical school of Eliot, Cleanth Brooks et al—comfortably yoked in the harness of the university, detached from society, detached even from themselves, failing to engage meaningfully with anything. Layton expresses it thus:

The kind of commodity-oriented civilization which huge mass increases in population are forging requires efficiency and conformity to carry on: imagination, spontaneity, individualism are so much sand in a smooth-running machine. The pistol is aimed at all our heads.(LCC 123; August 1954)

Layton’s response to this threat, and the general complacency with which it was regarded, was to write reams of scathing invective and satire, Olson’s to compose highly intellectualized anti-Eliot program-poems like “The Kingfishers,”[15] Creeley’s to engage in a sort of deep, meditative emotional introspection. The colour and shape of the pearls these men made were different, but the sand that irritated them was the same.

Black Mountain’s response to the disembodied, objective poetics of Eliot was to reinscribe the human body in poetry and poetics. In “Projective Verse,” Olson’s prime concern is with the accurate representation of the writer’s “breath.” He shifts the emphasis away from the controlling mind that would seek to dominate reality with synthetic forms of metre and metaphor, to the more organic, spontaneous operations of “the HEAD, by way of the EAR, to the SYLLABLE/the HEART, by way of the BREATH, to the LINE”(PV 390; emphasis in original). Layton, too, felt that the inscription of the body was essential, although his means of accomplishing this end had more to do with direct representation than Olson’s prosodic praxis, as in “Anti-Romantic”(RCS 202):

You went behind a bush to piss.

Imagine Wordsworth telling this!

About Lucy? And Robert Bridges

About his dear lass?

The poets are such bad liars.

Damn them and all their admirers.

The stars, the moon, for all their talk’s stone—

Coynts, not always clean.

Yes, and they’ve solid interests

In mournful birds, in clouds, in mists.

Did La belle Dame sans Merci a-shit?

Keats nowhere says it.

But read the Oxford Book of Verse

By whatchamacallit, and curse:

Second-rate thoughts, weakness, groans, laments,

And soft sentiments.

You, Love, fat, fat-assed, pissed away.

The odour was that of cut hay;

The flood came toward me with brown mirth.

O waterfalling earth! O Light!

Layton opposes his brand of scatological realism to the bad lies and soft sentiments of the Romantics and their heirs.[16] He tells Creeley that

the shits and pisses ... are a necessary antidote to the prevalent gentility and false idealism. ... It is for our time that the paradox is reserved that the soul must be saved by the body, the highest by the lowest; and men’s equal claim to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness justified by their common possession of an anus.(LCC 221; March 20, 1955)

This kind of frank physicality, articulated in everyday slang, was well-aligned with the Black Mountain agenda-items of locality, reality, and specificity; Layton’s voice, as Eli Mandel observes, was to the Americans “vulgar and therefore poetic”(Mandel 16, italics in original). Of Eliot’s contemporaries, he and Layton favour D.H. Lawrence over the New Critics, with his emphasis on physicality and sex and his contempt for the “beastly” bourgeoisie.[17] Although Creeley’s voice was reserved in comparison with Layton’s—and he was generally more concerned with the representation of specific emotions than biology—sex and other bodily functions were nevertheless important planks in his poetic platform, as in “Something”(SC 53):

I approach with such

a careful tremor, always

I feel the finally foolish

question of how it is,

then, supposed to be felt,

and by whom. I remember

once in a rented room on

27th street, the woman I loved

then, literally, after we

had made love on the large

bed sitting across from

a basin with two faucets, she

had to pee but was nervous,

embarrassed I suppose I

would watch her who had but

a moment ago been completely

open to me, naked, on

the same bed. Squatting, her

head reflected in the mirror,

the hair dark there, the

full of her face, the shoulders,

sat spread-legged, turned on

one faucet and shyly pissed. What

love might learn from such a sight.

The tone is far more sedate than “Anti-Romantic,” but Creeley’s emphasis is strikingly similar to Layton’s: the insistence on the ‘literalness’ of “loved”; the playful puns on “embarrassed” and “turned on”—the latter emphasized by enjambment; the use of words like “pee” and “pissed”; and the conclusion, reminiscent of Williams’ red wheelbarrow upon whose concrete specificity so much depends. Wordsworth wouldn’t write this of Lucy, but Creeley, more strictly empirical, must.

Although the affinities that existed between Layton and his American colleagues are surprisingly manifold, it is the things that distinguish him from the College,[18] and the debates he entered into with its members, that round out and complicate his contribution to, and later eschewal of, Black Mountain poetics. At the heart of his disagreements with Creeley and Olson are the issues of the inscription of the self into poetry and the role of the poet vis-à-vis his subject matter. Olson, in “Projective Verse,” outlines an ideology he calls “objectism,” which

is the getting rid of the lyrical interference of the individual as ego, of the “subject” and his soul, that peculiar presumption by which western man has interposed himself between what he is as a creature of nature ... and those other creations of nature which we may, with no derogation, call objects. For a man is himself an object, whatever he may take to be his advantages, the more likely to recognize himself as such the greater his advantages, particularly at that moment that he achieves an humilitas sufficient to make him of use. ... If he sprawl, he shall find little to sing but himself ... if he stays inside himself, if he is contained with his nature as he is participant in the larger force, he will be able to listen...(PV 395)

Olson’s program is to “hunt among stones”(“The Kingfishers,” NAP 8), to purge the poem of the poet’s ego, to inscribe the self as an archaeologist or archivist, collecting and cataloguing objects[19], as in “As the Dead Prey Upon Us”:

O souls, in life and in death,

awake, even as you sleep, even in sleep

know what wind

even under the rearend of the ugly automobile

lifts it away, clears the sodden weights of goods,

equipment, entertainment, the foods the Indian woman,

the filthy blue deer, the 4 by 3 foot ‘Viewbook,’

the heaviness of the old house, the stuffed inner room,

lifts the sodden nets(NAP 31)

Olson’s speaker here presents the reader with a list of juxtaposed objects that are supposed to be significant in and of themselves; the poet does not interfere by imposing his personal interpretation of their abstract ‘meaning’ in the poem. There is an element of this in Layton’s work as well, as in a poem like “De Bullion Street”(RCS 11) in which an observing speaker paints a streetscape. But Layton, unlike Olson and Creeley, is not content to let the objects in his poem speak for themselves. “The corner mission and the walled church grow/Like haemorrhoids on the city’s anus,” and “Here private lust is public gain and shame.” Layton, as poet, must pass judgment.

Sabrina Reed, in an attempt to make sense of Layton’s involvement with and later departure from the Black Mountain poets, claims that Layton, in the early work that first attracted Creeley, was aligned with objectism’s doctrine of ego-less creation. Later, she tells us, “he began consciously to reject Creeley and Olson’s elimination of the ego”(Reed 236). But there is precious little proof that Layton ever agreed with this aspect of his colleagues’ program.[20] Reed, like a physicist denying chaos, plots the careers of Layton and Creeley as arcs on a graph, starting and finishing at different points, but contiguous for a brief and blissful period. This makes her argument for Layton’s briefish contact with Black Mountain work, but it proceeds from the argument itself, rather than vice-versa. Throughout his correspondence with Creeley, Layton stresses the importance of the poet’s personality, the smell of which had “gone out” of contemporary poetry collections with their “antiseptic unity”(LCC 8; April 17, 1953). Layton’s program was, in this regard, antithetical to Olson and Creeley’s from the beginning, as his goal was not to uncover immanent truth in the rejectamenta of society, but to “dominate reality” with his personality,[21] to make sense of the world’s “fertile muck” with his imagination, which is that of a myth-making “fabulist” (RCS 126).

An extension of this issue of self-inscription is the matter of descriptive representation. Charles Olson warns that the “descriptive functions generally have to be watched, every second, in projective verse, because of their easiness, and thus their drain on the energy which composition by field allows into a poem”(PV 390). Similarly, Creeley argues against the “great preoccupation with symbology and levels of image in poetry insisted upon by contemporary criticism”(“Olson & Others” 410). Layton, as fabulist, was very fond of descriptive functions and symbology. This became a ‘vexed question’ very early in his epistolary friendship with Creeley. In response to a query by the American regarding the “self-ironical” subject of his poem “Vexata Quaestio,” Layton wrote that its “subject or theme” was “Hebraism vs. Hellenism; modern man torn between the Hebraic/Christian impulse toward good and the Greek impulse toward beauty and self-expression”(LCC 9; April 17, 1953). Creeley responded in turn by telling Layton that “You don’t ever want to speak for ‘Everyman,’ when you can speak so damn finely for yourself”(LCC 13; April 26, 1953). This disagreement was mild and a matter of differing exegetical emphases—both men liked the poem very much—but it highlights a basic epistemological rift that was a ubiquitous undercurrent in Layton’s exchanges with Black Mountain.

Layton often expressed his displeasure with certain aspects of Black Mountainology. Although he respected Olson for his views and his part in shaking the dust off of contemporary poetry, Layton had little time for the man’s writing. He called Olson’s poetry “prose wrapped up in curlers”(WG 61; letter to Louis Dudek, Aug. 28, 1955) and his prose “abominally affected & opaque”[22](LCC 23; July 8, 1953). Although he generally held Creeley’s writing in higher esteem,[23] Layton was not shy in voicing his distaste for his more experimental Olsonian “strateg[ies] of syntax”:

Reading you and Olson at your worst I sometimes have the feeling I’m looking over the shoulder of one of my students taking notes: everything but the barest essentials, clues, reminders, tags and signposts. But what in the fucking hell is the good of a signpost if there isn’t a bloody road to be seen anywhere? ... Nobody talks like that. Then what’s the point of writing like that? (LCC 168; Oct. 24, 1954)

Again, the issues of form and subject intertwine. Olson’s theory was that revolutionary thought had to be scripted in revolutionary syntax. Somewhat oddly, he saw Layton as an embodiment of the same notion: “the syntax is of [Layton’s] own making, not something accepted as a canon of the language in its history”(Quoted in Cameron 217). Layton would not have agreed; he consistently downplayed—which is not to say ‘denied’—the importance of technical experimentation: “The point is that what I say is NOT TRADITIONAL”(WG 42; Letter to Louis Dudek, Sept. 1954; emphasis in original).

Layton’s point was also that Olson was not saying anything particularly novel or inspiring. He had a hard time understanding what Olson was getting at in his prosodic manifesto. Creeley’s explanation that open verse was “a disposition of the mind, rather than a formal methodology” didn’t do much to clarify its importance to Layton (LCC 28; July 11, 1953). To him, the poetics didn’t do anything for the poetry, except perhaps drag it down:

Olson and the others ... think they’ve gotten hold of something new (it isn’t, it’s as old as Wordsworth) about getting poetry close to speech .... [N]o one ... ever talks the way they write. It’s phoney, and affected, from the word go....I am not interested in poems as the exemplification of any particular theories, and I couldn’t be less interested in poetic fads: what I want is good poems.(WG 22; Letter to Cid Corman, July 13, 1953)

Layton was attracted to Corman and Creeley because he thought that they were good poets, just as they had been attracted to him, even though he did not employ “open” composition practices. Layton ultimately rejected Olson because he failed to measure up where he thought it mattered most: in the poems. The two younger poets’ continued faith in Olson’s poetics, combined with Layton’s increasing celebrity in Canada,[24] had to be a significant factor in his drift from Black Mountain and his denigration of the College in the seventies.

Layton’s involvement in Black Mountain, though significant, was tenuous. He and Creeley/Corman/Olson’s mutual attraction had more to do with common enemies than with any profound sympathies or resemblances. Layton could only be said to have adhered to the fuzziest tenets of “Projective Verse,” and even then only accidentally. What Layton did possess was a “projective” personal presence and poetic dynamism that acted like a magnet on the imaginations of Olson, Creeley, and Corman. And the applause of an enthusiastic audience, not to mention the fruitful exchange of ideas about poetry and society, was music to Layton’s ears, since he was used to critical neglect and censure in Canada. Even if the ego was not something that Creeley and Olson wanted inscribed in their poems, the egotism of a self-proclaimed übermensch like Layton was just the sort of adrenaline injection their college needed. Layton’s self-glorification is analogous to Olson’s “Projective Verse”—both breathe, even if they are orthopraxically nonsensical, a confidence in revolutionary orthodoxy so crucial to the establishment and survival of a grass-roots, avant-garde movement.

Works Cited

Allen, Donald, ed. The New American Poetry, 1945-1960. Berkeley: The University of California Press, 1999.

Butterick, George. “Robert Creeley and the Tradition.” Robert Creeley: The Poet’s Workshop. Ed. Carroll F. Terrell. Orono: The National Poetry Foundation, 1984.

Cameron, Elspeth. Irving Layton: A Portrait. Toronto: Stoddart, 1985.

Creeley, Robert. “Inside Out.” The Collected Essays. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989. 554-64.

---. “Olson & Others: Some Orts for the Sports.” The New American Poetry, 1945-1960. Ed. Donald Allen Berkeley: The University of California Press, 1999. 408-11.

---. Selected Poems. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1962.

---. “To Define.” In The New American Poetry, 1945-1960. Ed. Donald Allen. Berkeley: The University of California Press, 1999. 408.

Faas, Ekbert and Sabrina Reed, eds. Irving Layton & Robert Creeley: The Complete Correspondence, 1953-1978. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s UP, 1990.

Francis, Wynne. “Irving Layton and His Works.” Canadian Writers and Their Works. Vol. 5. Eds. Robert Lecker, Jack David, Ellen Quigley. Toronto: ECW Press, 1985.

Layton, Irving. A Red Carpet for the Sun. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1959.

Mandel, Eli. Irving Layton. Toronto: Forum House, 1969.

Mansbridge, Francis. Irving Layton: God’s Recording Angel. Toronto: ECW Press, 1995.

---, ed. Wild Gooseberries: The Selected Letters of Irving Layton. Toronto: MacMillan, 1989.

Olson, Charles. “Projective Verse.” In The New American Poetry, 1945-1960. Ed. Donald Allen. Berkeley: The University of California Press, 1999. 386-97.

Reed, Sabrina. The Place of American Poets in the Development of Irving Layton, Louis Dudek and Raymond Souster. Toronto: University of Toronto School of Graduate Studies, 1988.

Sherman, Kenneth. “An Interview with Irving Layton.” Essays on Canadian Writing 1978, 10, 7-18.

Tomlinson, Charles. Introduction. William Carlos Williams. Selected Poems. N.Y.: New Directions, 1985.

Wiens, Erwin. “From Apocalypse to Black Mountain: the Contexts of Layton’s Early Criticism.” Canadian Poetry 1985, 16, 1-20.

Appendix: Layton/Black Mountain Chronology

1912: Born Israel Lazarovitch in Tirgul Neamt Northern Romania, youngest of 8.

1913: Family emigrates to Montreal.

1945: First book, Here and Now, published.

1948: Now is the Place published.

1951: Self-publishes The Black Huntsmen.

1952: Cerberus, poems by Layton, Louis Dudek, and Raymond Souster published by Contact Press.

-Canadian Poems, edited by Layton and Dudek, published by Contact.

-Souster’s Contact magazine started.

1953: CIV/n magazine publishes Origin poets.

-Love the Conqueror Worm published

February 17: Robert Creeley, having read copies of The Black Huntsmen and Canadian Poems, writes to Layton and invites him to submit a manuscript to Creeley’s Divers Press. This is the beginning of an extensive correspondence over the next four years.

June: Receives visit from Cid Corman, editor of Origin, who introduces him to “Projective Verse.”

September 21: After reading a poem of Layton’s in Contact, Olson invites Layton to teach at Black Mountain College. Layton unable to accept due to commitments in Montreal—including teaching at SGW college—and the fact that he is banned from the U.S. by the McCarran act.

1954: In the Midst of my Fever published by Divers Press, Mallorca.

-Creeley leaves Mallorca to teach at Black Mountain College.

-Black Mountain Review started, with Creeley as editor, and Layton, Olson, Paul Blackburn, and Kenneth Rexroth as contributing editors.

-Contact folds.

-The Long Pea-Shooter published.

-Autumn: Layton featured in Origin 14, including 20 poems and a short story.

1955: CIV/n folds.

-The Cold Green Element and The Blue Propeller (with help from Creeley) published.

1956, Winter: Layton guest-edits Origin 18, featuring new Canadian poetry.

-The Improved Binoculars, selected poems, published by Jonathan Williams’ Jargon Press, as eighteenth in a series which included Olson, Creeley, Zukovsky, Kenneth Patchen, Joel Oppenheimer, Denise Levertov, et al.

-Ryerson Press, Canadian distributor of The Improved Binoculars, refuses to release its copies, because of “controversial” content.

-The Bull Calf and Music on a Kazoo published.

1957: Black Mountain Review folds.

-Layton and Creeley’s correspondence ends for five years.

1958: A Laughter in the Mind published by Jonathan Williams.

1959: A Red Carpet for the Sun published by McClelland and Stewart and Jonathan Williams.

1960: The New American Poetry published.

1962: Layton and Creeley meet for the first time, at UBC, where Creeley was teaching.

-Layton’s application to UBC blocked by the head of the English Department.

[1] And for the sake of expediency and economy, I won’t go into other factors (e.g. nationalism, cultural identification, etc.) the existence of which I acknowledge, but which are not of particular relevance to the present discussion.

[2] Because of his work publishing Black Mountain poets in Contact magazine a case could be made for Raymond Souster as well, but Souster was not embraced, as a poet, in the same way that Layton was.

[3] With the exception of Sabrina Reed’s unpublished doctoral dissertation, The Place of American Poets in the Development of Irving Layton, Louis Dudek, and Raymond Souster. The collected correspondence of Layton and Robert Creeley is another obvious exception, but I refer here, primarily, to critical texts.

[4] In fact, Layton was officially regarded as decidedly un-American, as he was barred from entering the United States for his political activities as “a hot left-winger”(LCC 53, Oct. 9, 1953).

[5] I focus on Creeley and Olson—and to a lesser extent Cid Corman, whose contribution to the movement was greater as editor of Origin than as a poet—both because they were the most central Black Mountaineers and because they were the closest of them to Layton.

[6] Not only did he regularly publish poems in Origin and BMR, but he was featured in one issue of the former (Origin 14) and edited another (Origin 18); was, at Creeley’s invitation, a contributing editor of BMR; and published a book, again at Creeley’s request, with Divers Press (IMF), and his first “selected poems” (TIB) with Jonathan Williams’ Jargon Press.

[7] Which doctrine I elucidate below.

[8] Mansbridge misses a great deal here. Not only does he seem to be unaware of the proper definition of “reactionary,” but his notion that it is harder now to understand Layton’s link with Creeley, Olson et al. than it would have been in the 1950s is just plain silly, particularly since he quotes here from the Layton-Creeley correspondence, which publication sheds much light on an otherwise obscure topic (an absurdity rendered all the more poignant by the fact that Mansbridge is the editor of Layton’s letters). It seems to me that Mansbridge uses this “difficulty” as a handy excuse to move on to other topics.

[9] Although one has reason to doubt that the correctness of this observation is based on anything more substantial than chance, since she goes on to generalize, “Olson also wrote tough, short, tight little poems”(Cameron 210), a statement that contains only slightly more truth than, say, “Olson was a short, tight, little man.” The unreliability of Cameron’s Harlequinesque biography of Layton is already notorious, so this will be my last dig at her.

[10] Francis’ offhand dismissal is a tad misleading, as her focus is on the big picture of Layton’s development, in which context there is considerable justice in saying that Layton saw contemporary experimentation as a dead end. This broad perspective, however, obscures and unreasonably diminishes the importance of Layton’s involvement with Black Mountain in the 1950s. Since Layton’s career and poetics have been nothing if not protean, to borrow George Woodcock’s term, brief flirtations with this school or that are at least as worthy of attention as any kind of synthetic picture of the poet’s entire career.

[11] In particular, Butterick cites the general influence of Campion’s short lyrics, echoes of Byron in “The Bed,” and Creeley’s use of ballad metres in such poems as “Ballad of the Despairing Husband” and “The Three Ladies.”

[12] Or, as Creeley puts it, “Tradition is an aspect of what anyone is now thinking,--not what someone once thought.”(“To Define,” NAP 408)

[13] I know this sounds incredibly broad, but if anything it isn’t broad enough, since Black Mountain’s international connections stretched as far ‘east’ as Japan, through the relationships of Cid Corman and Robert Creeley to such writers and artists as Katue Kitasono.

[14] See appended chronology.

[15] The Maximus Poems are also highly relevant. As Reed states: “While Maximus maintains his individuality, the populace has been corrupted by mass production.”(Reed 205)

[16] Although Layton is elsewhere effusive in his praise of Keats and Wordsworth. His critical writings—and indeed his poetry—are far too contradictory to be of any use in drawing simple conclusions about his ambivalent position vis-à-vis the Romantics (or any of his influences, for that matter). Creeley and Olson’s positions are likewise hazy. Suffice to say that a discussion of these matters could fill a book, so I will not attempt to probe them too deeply here.

[17] Creeley states this more unequivocally than Layton (“Lawrence was on it, the sexual, was standing exactly on that ground. Hence ... my own mentor, finally the only one I can have”(Quoted in Butterick 126)). Still, Layton’s critical writing and correspondence is peppered with references to Lawrence’s influence on his own work.

[18] Here, I don’t mean to suggest that the individual members of the Black Mountain movement existed as some kind of homogeneous unit; rather, that Layton’s reservations regarding projectivist doctrine were greater than those of other Black Mountain writers.

[19] Cf. William Carlos Williams’ doctrine: “No ideas but in things.” (Quoted in Tomlinson 12)

[20] Or that Creeley felt the need to impose it on Layton. Sabrina Reed claims that Creeley “consistently criticized Layton when he talked of himself as a poet or of the poet’s role in society”(249). While it’s true that Creeley never adopted or endorsed his friend’s didactic approach—stating that he was “not here to bring enlightenment or a resolving of human wills, [but] to tell you what happens as best I can”(quoted in Reed 222)—his praise for such works as The Long Peashooter—a book Layton dedicated to him—was effusive nonetheless.(LCC 193; Dec. 27, 1954)

21 By way of contrast, Creeley is explicit: “Insofar as I is a vehicle of passage or transformation, its powers are clear. Realized as will or personality, that ‘mealy seal’ as Olson called it, the power vitiates as soon as the energy necessary to sustain it exhausts itself.”(“Inside Out” 563)

22Later, Layton would claim, “I’ve at last seen the light re Olson’s prose”(Correspondence 192; Dec. 19, 1954), but Layton’s mercurial shifts in temperament are legendary, and this one statement does little to balance the scales.

23 Much later, Layton would make disparaging remarks about “Robert Creeley dron[ing] inaudibly some of his skinny poems”(Sherman 12). It seems to me that this is just an example of Layton’s typically hyperbolic polemical posturing. Layton was reacting to the prominence of the TISH poets in the mid-seventies, whom he saw as Canadian Black Mountain copy-cats, and to discredit TISH, what better tactic than to discredit Black Mountain?

[24] A phenomenon which would have, at least, been delayed considerably, had it not been for the support of Creeley, Olson, Corman, William Carlos Williams, and Jonathan Williams.