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Biography & Autobiography Literary

Waiting for the Messiah

by (author) Irving Layton

McClelland & Stewart
Initial publish date
Jun 2006
Literary, Jewish, Poetry
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jun 2006
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Enigmatic and explosive, Irving Layton was indisputably one of this country's most controversial literary figures. His flamboyant style and outspokenness won him friends and enemies. His visceral and lyrical poetry earned him reverence and international acclaim. In Waiting for the Messiah, first published in 1985, Layton writes openly about his life and the discordant impulses that shaped him into the provocative poet and personality that he became.
With the vitality, passion, and intimacy that characterizes his verse, his memoir -- covering the years between 1912 and 1946 -- sheds welcome light on Irving Layton's public persona, and gives further substance to one of the most impressive bodies of work in Canadian poetry. His self-portrait teems with insight and energy, and paints a picture of a colourful life, from its beginnings in Montreal's Jewish ghetto.
As a high-spirited, life-loving, and sensual boy, he reacted against anti-Semitism and poverty that surrounded him, rejecting his parents' values and orthodox beliefs. He battled his way through an educational system that provided no outlet for his imagination. Layton's "crazy need for experience" drove him to embrace or challenge all that he encountered, and he recounts his first experiences with sex and death, his associations with literary friends and rivals, his relationships with women. Equally compelling is his description of Montreal in the forties as a city crackling with literary and political energies. It was in the ferment of this milieu that Layton ripened as a poet
In Waiting for the Messiah, Layton unleashes his sparkling prose style. He is bold and revealing, scathing and witty. The result is a rich and entertaining memoir of a life which as "commuted daily between heaven and hell" and produced poems which have made a lasting contribution to Canadian literature.

About the author

Irving Layton (Israel Lazarovitch) was born March 12, 1912 in Tirgu Neamt, Romania. Layton came to Montreal with his family before he was one. He attained a BSc in agriculture at Macdonald College in 1939. Following a stint in the Canadian Army, he did graduate work in political science at McGill. A poet, short-story writer, and essayist, Layton is perhaps the most well-known of the Montreal poets, a group of young poets who engaged in a battle against romanticism in poetry in the 1940's. Layton has published many poetry collections, including A Red Carpet for the Sun (1959) which won the Governor General's Award. Layton was poet-in-residence at various Canadian universities and a professor of English at York University 1969-78. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in 1981.

Irving Layton died in 2006.

Irving Layton's profile page

Editorial Reviews

“Irving Layton transformed Canadian literature through the brilliant sensuality and emotional power of his writing. More than anyone before or since, he got Canadians excited about poetry and the possibility of living with passion.”
“Layton’s autobiography is one of the finest memoirs written in this country.”
Victoria Times Colonist
“Uncommonly good reading.”
Globe and Mail

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