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Poets and the Canadian Jewish community: three portraits Dayan, Shoshana

Abstract

The central idea of this study is an examination of the transformation of the image of the poet in different generations. My thesis problem is that the poet is dynamic, reflecting both the self-image and reception of society at different times. I collected data from many different sources- the primary sources were memoirs, poetry, short stories, novels and original documents from the Canadian Jewish Congress Archives and by speaking with historians about A.M. Klein, Irving Layton and Leonard Cohen. The secondary sources used were scholarly books about the poets articles from the Canadian Jewish press and documentaries. I used literary analysis for the poetry and I took a social-historical approach in the examination of the poets' relationship to the community and biography. The social historical approach and the literary approach were both used in this study to analyze the succession of Canadian Jewish poets. As an original contribution to the field, this study categorizes the three poets in a succession: Klein is the Jewish poet, Layton is the Canadian Jewish poet and Cohen is the spiritual guru, all reflecting the changing situation for Canadian Jews. I examine the first generation poet in this succession of gifted Canadian Jewish poets, A.M. Klein, the second generation, Irving Layton and the third generation poet, Leonard Cohen. Specifically, I argue that the roles and the reception to these poets have changed in the Jewish press as a result of changing times. As the years progress and the situation for worldwide Jewry becomes more stable with greater tolerance in a multicultural society, the poet moves away from the identification as a Jewish poet. In Klein's generation he is labeled as a Jewish poet. Layton fights the label of a Jewish poet and through controversy and celebrity he is recognized as a Canadian Jewish poet. Leonard Cohen re-defines the category of a Canadian Jewish poet in favor of a spiritual guru. This study provides an overview of the times and the issues that each poet faced in their generation. The first part of each chapter is devoted to a brief biography and an exploration of the way the Jewish community responded to the poets in terms of roles that they wanted them to undertake and the own reception to the poets in the local Jewish press. It is interesting that each poet served a different function in different generations as a response to the needs of the community. The second section of each chapter is an examination of the poets' self-image as depicted in their writing. All of the poets viewed themselves in the same manner, as spokesmen, controversial figures and as modern poets similar to ancient biblical figures. This section includes the ways the poets viewed their relationship with the community and their relationship to Judaism as a way of shaping their self-perception.

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