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A study of the poetry of Irving Layton Mayne, Seymour

Abstract

This dissertation focuses on the phases of Irving Layton's growth and development as a poet, and the patterns of his vision. These phases are eightfold: the early poetry of the thirties; the poetry of the forties and Layton's involvement with First Statement and Northern Review; the poetry of the early fifties and his association with Contact Press; the two phases of satirical and meditative poetry of the intensive middle fifties; the poetry and prefaces of the late fifties and the consolidation of his .body of work; and the writings of the two phases of the early and late sixties. Each phase corresponds to a development in his poetry and his involvement with the Canadian literary community. The pattern of publication is closest to the real order of his development; the chronology reveals the nature of Layton's growth. The poetry of the thirties and forties contained the seeds of his later development and pointed to the directions he was to take. At these early phases he achieved some degree of definition which was to grow and widen rather than transform itself radically from book to book. The process of definition and redefinition, as revealed by this close study of his poems and his books, provides for the tension in his poetic growth. The poems and books, in their arrangements as well, indicate Layton's artistic intentions. They were also means for reshaping his own self-image as poet, and the device of the persona of the poet figure. The search and movement of Layton's poetics revolve around the self-image and persona of the poet. The image of the poet figure reflects itself in its varied aspects both in Layton's poetry and in his other writings—short fiction, critical articles, prefaces and forewords, literary and public correspondence. The dialectic for poetic realization finds its source in the poet figure. And the making of these self-images and personas moves as if in full circle. Ultimately, as in the last phase of the late sixties, the dialectic is one of completion and haunting, poetry and poet. Thus, each phase of Layton's poetry moves out from an initial stance and vision, and then completes itself in a manner that offers a new point of departure. All of Layton's poet figures and their attending personas are explored in the light of this poetic dialectic, as well as Layton's singular influence and contribution to the literary community of Canada, which stem from his vision of the poet.

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