Happy 100th, Mr. Layton

To mark the centenary of the great Canadian poet Irving Layton, I thought I’d share one my favorites of his poems. Layton’s best work is bombastic, and this poem is what I like to call “a diatribe.” They’re lots of fun to write and almost as much fun to read.

LETTER TO A LIBRARIAN

Mr. P – I have heard it rumoured
That you, humanist, librarian with a licence,
In the shady privacy of your glassed room
Tore up my book of poems.

Sir, a word in your ear. Others
Have tried that game: burned Mann
And my immortal kinsman Heine.
Idiots! What act could be vainer?

For this act of yours, the ligatures
Pest-corroded, your eyes shall fall
From their sockets, drop on your lacquered desk
With the dull weight of pinballs.

And brighter than the sapless vine
Your hands shall flare
To the murkiest kimbos of the library,
Flashing my name like a neon sign.

And the candid great
Of whom not one was ever an Australian
Cry dustily from their shelves,
“Impostor! False custodian!”

Till a stunned derelict
You fall down blind, ear-beleagured,
While Rabelais pipes you to a wished-for death
On a kazoo quaint and silvered.

-Irving Layton
(from, “Selected Poems 1945-89: A Wild Peculiar Joy,” McClelland & Stewart, 1982.)

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