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2:01 DL: No, as the documentation in my book Right Hand, Left Hand shows, one thing you could never accuse the communists of was of not fighting the day-to-day struggles of the people in the streets, in the factories, on the unemployed line, in the mines and so on. Livesay
2:20 They were the most active fighters for the unemployed and the down-and-outs it was because of that we joined with them—middle-class intellectuals—but also on New Frontier there were some of these same working people who never had been to university. I mean, it wasn’t just an intellectual group. Livesay
9:05 DL: Anyway, those two books published in ’38 and ’32 were personal lyrics and there were some poems which were aware of the environment and how it was being damaged by man—a little poem called “Pioneer” and another called “The Hermit.” Longer poems describing how we were devouring the country, and destroying it. But in general the poems were private, metaphysical, witty, love poems. Livesay
9:40 And it was only after doing a thesis on symbolist poetry in Paris that I began to read Edith Sitwell’s work and particularly a long poem she wrote called “Gold Coast Customs” and I compared that with Eliot’s “The Waste Land” and I felt that she was far more critical of society than was Eliot. Livesay
10:09 And then after coming back to Canada and being very active as an activist in the political left I went through social work in Toronto and one of my first jobs was in Montreal and there we had a whole series of discussions of whether art should be a tool to fight for a changed society or whether it was simply an image, you know, a description of the situation. Livesay
10:45 And I tried all kinds of writing in that period—what we called “agitprop”—agitational propaganda where a kind of Brechtian mass chant was developed. And said aloud at trade union meetings and on picket lines and so on. I tried that. I wrote some dramatic poetry for the worker’s theatre Livesay
11:15 and I only realized that poetry could be written which combined the personal and lyrical with the political view after I had been New Jersey for a year as a social worker, seen the Black problem, and—found in a little bookshop in Greenwich Village—found the poems Auden, Spender, Day-Lewis and his book A Hope for Poetry and I was absolutely entranced to find that I could write—that a poet could write very personal, even nature poetry, but also have a political point of view and a message. Livesay
11:59 So when I came back to Canada in ’36 I suddenly began writing “Day and Night” about my experiences in New Jersey in the steel factories and the struggle of the Blacks against prejudice and I began writing about the struggles of Ontario farmers and the fact that they were all being ‘de-bourgeoisified’ because they had to come to the city for work and work in factories. And that poem was a long poem called “The Outrider.” I think in all those poems of that period there was a great deal of lyricism and a personal feeling, as well as the political message that we must struggle to change the world, or to change our society. Livesay
12:52 So that kind of writing then took a long time to arrive at. Because there’s a great difference between personal lyricism and agitprop poetry and I had to learn how to bridge the two and make it work and some of my poems are faulty. They’re flawed, because they didn’t achieve that integration. But I think the two longest documentaries of that period did achieve the integration. Livesay
13:27 Well, then you see we were all absolutely held up short because of the war, which we had predicted and the whole of the country changed and at that time, also, I married and had two children in 1940, 1942. So I was completely occupied then by family life. And I had been, of course, very disappointed in what happened in the Hitler-Russian pact but very heartened again because of Churchill’s and Stalin’s agreement to fight Hitler. Livesay
14:02 So the poetry of the ‘40s that I wrote was still socially conscious, I think. I wrote the long poem about the Japanese evacuation from the West Coast. But, at the same time, it was family poetry. Poetry about friends and children and relationships between husband and wife. A woman’s desire to escape and be a creative person, and yet bound to the family. Many poems of that sort written in that period. So in answer to your question I would say that every decade creates changes in society, creates changes in the poet. Livesay
17:17 DL: I think there are signs that poets are beginning to be concerned. I wish I had brought with me a poem by a young girl of twenty. I should have brought it. She does a take off of the Lord’s Prayer. “Oh Dada, who art in heaven” it begins. And it’s an attack—it’s about the nuclear bomb. She’s written about six or seven poems against the atom bomb and the nuclear thrust and so on. And she’s only twenty. She’s a student at the University of Ottawa and she’s amazingly aware and very, very passionate about these things. Livesay
18:03 So I do think it’s perhaps coming, but I don’t see the Old Guard. By that I mean poets like Purdy and poets like, well, whoever—I shouldn’t name names. I don’t think they are doing what they should do about the present. Terrible danger of world destruction. Livesay
0:34 SD: I wonder if I could add a point to the question, which was why was it that a lot of the writers for, I think it was Masses and New Frontier, were university people or had some sort of university education. I think I would like to make a generalization in response to that, and that is that socialism in Canada that resulted in the formation of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, the CCF, was basically Fabian socialism. And it was really brought in by a group of men—many of whom had been to Oxford—and who had absorbed Fabian socialism. Djwa
1:13 And so we had a very large block of people in Canada who were Fabian socialists and who were university people. Because they picked up their socialism at university. And this was also the case, although to a lesser extent because there was a smaller number, with the communist supporters of the ‘30s. Djwa
1:36 I think, Dee, you acquired your left—or a part of your left—at the Sorbonne and I think, Irving, didn’t some of your Marxism—didn’t you acquire it at McGill? Djwa
14:44 SD: Well, could we take perhaps one last question? Djwa
0:08 IL: … to the bitter end along with his wife Peggy, Frank Scott was never Communist. He was anti-communist, he was a socialist. And so was A. M. Klein. So there was this whole rethinking of and about the Soviet Union after the termination of World War II. And that, of course, has continued in my thinking and Louis’s thinking and of the thinking of other poets of the period. Layton
3:55 IL: I didn’t relate at all. I wasn’t published until 1959. I couldn’t find a publisher for about fourteen years and I had to publish my own books one year after another. But there was Ryerson. And Ryerson published Louis Dudek, and Pat Page—I believe—Raymond Souster brought out Unit of Five. Layton
4:20 They were going to distribute my book later on, Red Carpet for the Sun until somebody found a couple of dirty words. And they said, “nothing doing, we won’t distribute the book.” Then, of course, there was McClelland and Stewart that came on the scene a bit later. But at that time the only publisher, really, was Ryerson Press and that was because they had Lorne Pierce as the editor who was very sympathetic to what was happening. I can’t think of any other publisher— Layton
6:03 IL: The only figure that I was dimly aware of was E. K. Brown and of course A. J. M. Smith and the magisterial figure of Northrop Frye and I didn’t have much use for any one of them because I felt they were rather academic and not sympathetic to the kind of thing that I was trying to do in my poetry, which was to express the living realities I had experienced, you see? The kind of world that I knew—that’s why I shouted a moment ago, “god damnit I didn’t learn my socialism at the university” I learned it in the streets. I was brought up in a semi-slum, and there was crime and prostitution and all that kind of thing, and class conflict was quite visible, and racial conflict between French Canadians and Italian Canadians and the both turned against the Jews, you know? Layton
6:50 That was the kind of thing, and when I looked at the poetry. I looked at Carman and Lampman and Roberts, my god, I didn’t see my world reflected at all. I heard the sound of skylarks, you know? I saw flowers. I didn’t see garbage cans. There were no whores. There was none of the world that I was acquainted with, you know? And that’s what I began to protest against, besides the anti-eroticism, that there was no evidence that sex, you know, was what was had in this country, or that anybody went to the washroom, you know? Layton
19:19 IL: You know I don’t really see all that much change from where I sit, and after my own evolution and development through the simplicities of politics. I rather envy Dorothy, her warmth. And her concern. And above all, her confidence. I lost that. I don’t believe in any political solution. And I feel that things have not changed as far as the literary scene is concerned. I began by attacking the academicism, the remoteness from reality, the gentility. And If I had to write things today, I think I would attack the same things. Layton
20:01 I don’t see any poems coming out from Canadian poets about Gulag. I don’t see any tribute paid to Andre Malraux or Solzhenitsyn, the dissidents, the rebels, the martyrs of the Soviet, of the Communist Empire. I don’t see any poems to the brave Ukrainians or Poles or Lithuanians who have been robbed of their cultural and national rights. Layton
20:33 There isn’t a single poem that has been written by a Canadian poet—correct me, please, if I’m wrong—about the Holocaust. And the great events of our time, surely, have been the Holocaust and Gulag. Layton
20:47 And you know why? Because they indicate that the problem is not political, not sociological, but deeply psychological. Existentialist, if you wish. That the problem arises in the heart and soul of man. That it is ridden and divided because man is someone who has a soul that is tethered to an asshole. That he shits, that he decomposes, that it’s a soul in an erotic body, that he desires power, that he exercises cruelty to give him that sense of power. And that ideologies and ideologues so often mask our aggressiveness, that ruthless desire for power, the cruelty, the dominion and domination over other people. Layton
21:45 This is what Gulag is all about. This is what the Holocaust is all about. That science and technology and the Enlightenment could be employed to exterminate helpless men, women, and children. Indignities and abuses inflicted upon them. A million and a half children killed. This is what we’re at. This is where we are at. I find no Canadian poets talking about that. Layton
22:18 I find Canadian poetry as gutless, as bloodless, as I found it in 1942. So now they’re taking about ecology and pollution and what’s happened to the Indian and so forth. But where are the great psychological and moral issues of our time in the Canadian poetry? I don’t see it reflected at all! Layton
22:39 I pick up a Canadian anthology of this new West Coast and there wasn’t a damn poem that really merits any attention. And good stuff? Technically and there was a concern with technique, etcetera, etcetera. But where are the poets that are really talking about these moral, political, and psychological dilemmas of our time. I do not find it. Layton
23:01 I would just like to conclude with a paragraph from my forthcoming book to indicate just where I am at. Layton
23:12 IL, reciting from book: Still it’s hard but not impossible for me to break a habit that has taken almost half a century to form. I’m talking about the habit of writing poetry. Today only words artfully shaped out of passion and integrity have any meaning or validity for me. All other verbiage I regard as verbal excrement on floral bum-paper. Layton
23:32 I recall saying to a friend: When my head is soaked by time I hope I shall have enough craft and wisdom to compose a handful of lyrics that say with precision and intensity what living on this beautiful and dangerous planet has meant. Layton
23:49 I am modest enough to believe that such lyrics will be found in the present volume by the alert and sensitive reader. And I am sanguine enough to think that such a reader still exists. When women, homosexuals, proles, and Blacks are at last free and equal, people will still continue to experience grief and rapture, want sex, grow old, and die. Layton
24:18 Enduring poets keeps these constants in mind whatever the earth-shaking changes in foreign policy and government. Yours truly. Layton
1:46 Applause and audience laughter audience
3:47 Audience member asking question about the major book publishers of the era and how the poets related to them. audience
7:34 Audience laughter and groans audience
7:55 Audience applause, laughter, groans audience
8:20 Audience member asking question addressed to Livesay about her poetic transitions between private to political subject matter. audience
14:48 Audience member asking question about the role of struggle in poetry compared to the '70s audience
16:26 Audience member responding audience
17:13 Audience laughter audience
19:15 Audience laughter audience
23:20 Audience laughter audience
24:45 Applause audience
25:21 Applause audience
25:37 Audience noise and background chatter audience
1:46 IL: Oh, Christ, no! No! I picked up my socialism in the slums of the streets of Montreal. Christ, no! SD: What can I say? More questions, please! dialogue
2:39 AM: And Sandra, what about the farmers? I mean, after all Saskatchewan was the first CCF government and I mean my relatives there who were struggling not to go on relief when I stayed with them and I finally had to break down and go on it. You know, they were—my young cousins—I mean, they were the sort of people that got into the CCF and—SD: I think—I think that the rank-and-file…. AM: And they certainly never went to university. If they got through grade ten they were lucky… dialogue
3:06 SD: The rank-and-file were certainly not university-trained, but the people who wrote the Regina Manifesto—the Underhills, the Cassidys, the Frank Scotts—they all had been to Oxford and they all got their Fabian Socialism there and Woodsworth, too, was a product of the British university system. He was a minister, but he got his Fabian socialism in England. dialogue
3:29 SD: But anyway, what the purpose of the evening is, is to give the audience a chance to ask more questions of three people, really, who have more information on these three decades than almost anybody else in the country. Are there other questions that you would like to have answered? Yes? dialogue
4:58 DL: Well, there were always the British publishers—Macmillan and Oxford. IL: Oh, yes. DL: But they didn’t touch any of this new writing. And I think it’s amazing that Lorne Pierce hasn’t been given more attention by the critics and by the students because he really worked doggedly at getting Canadian poetry published in little chapbooks during the ‘30s and ‘40s. And some of it was good and some of it was bad. But he tried to do that. He claimed that he had the money to publish poetry because so much money was made out of the bible, which the Ryerson Press was responsible for publishing dialogue
5:45 IL: Perhaps a word should be said about the critics at the time, Dorothy? DL: Pardon? IL: I’m not really qualified because I’m so prejudiced. But maybe somebody would like to say something about the state of criticism at the time. dialogue
7:53 SD: Well, it’s clear that I owe you a great apology, Irving. I’ve heard from Louis Dudek the great discussions you had on communism at McGill and I just put two and two together and got five. Well, are there further questions that you’d like to put this evening? DL: This one. SD: Yes dialogue
8:51 DL: Well, the first transition was from my adolescent books Green Pitcher and—what was the next one? SD: City Wife? DL: No, the little one. SD: The chapbook? DL: Signpost, was it? Signpost. dialogue
15:25 DL: Perhaps Anne would like to answer that, would you? AM: Oh, I think you can do it. DL: [whispering to Anne]… How has the Canada Council aid affected young poets? dialogue
15:36 AM: Well, I think poets now are really very lucky. I mean, as Dorothy and Irving have said, it was really hard to get published. I often wonder if “The Wind, Our Enemy” would even had got published if Dorothy’s father hadn’t taken it and been a good friend of Lorne Pierce. And I know I got a lot of publicity. It was reviewed all across the country because Dorothy’s father was the head of Canadian press. dialogue
16:03 Now, I think with these grants and all the little mags—I mean, now there are just so many magazines. It’s just absolutely marvellous. There’s so many places to get published. There’s no sort of— DL: Well, is that a good thing in your opinion? AM: Oh, I think it is a most excellent thing. I mean, why not? dialogue
16:40 DL: No, the great thing that’s lacking in the 70s is the apathy. And the concern with one’s own navel and reading to each other. There is no real political poetry being written today, and even the novels—the novels are more political, I agree. AM: But what political—well national unity—but I mean, we haven’t really got those same political things to fight against, unless we have another depression, which I guess is possible…” DL: “Well, it’s here isn’t it?” dialogue
18:23 AM: Well don’t you think a lot of the young poets are writing poems about pollution and that sort of thing. I think a great many are. DL: Well, I say the youngest ones are beginning to, I believe. But this whole group that’s been to the fore in the ‘60s and ’70s is not doing this. I did find one very remarkably interesting poem by Margaret Atwood—entirely different sort of poem in a magazine just recently. It’s in a collection, an anthology. It’s a poem—a very pungent satire against Trudeau. And I’d say it’s the first thing I’d seen of hers that I’d say is politically conscious. dialogue
19:08 SD: Irving has asked to have the last word. IL: Oh, not the last word. I just want to say something— for a change! dialogue
25:04 SD: I think that Irving Layton, in his view of man, has indeed proven that the poet—or some of the poets today—have taken the function of the priest. IL: The prophet, not the priest. The prophet SD: How about the prophet-priest? Which is a good—IL: I’m happy to make a compromise. SD: I think that all that remains for me to do is to thank the panel on your behalf. dialogue

SFU Panel Recording: Part 2 at SFU Archives and Records Management.

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