Page 30 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 40

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volumes o f poetry , short stories and essays, making him the most
prolific and best known o f C an ad a ’s poets. His w idespread fam e
owes as much to his se lf-advertised public p resence as to his
literary work, fo r Layton has assiduously cultivated the person a
o f moral gadfly to his fellow Canad ians , Jew and gentile alike.
Th rou gh letter-to-the ed itor columns his opin ions are known to
new spaper re ader s as well as poetry adep ts , often ga in ing celeb­
rity by pressing unpopu la r views. Dur ing the 60 ’s his was a lone
voice in suppor t o f the American e ffo r t in Viet Nam , even ded i­
cating a book o f poem s to Lyndon John son .
Layton ’s life enacts the fam iliar events o f the m odern Jew ish
odyssey, — the impoverished imm igran t beg innings, the growth
o f mind through education ; the separation from traditional be­
lief; the association with radical ideologies in the 1930’s; the deep
involvement in the literary wars in pursu it o f an ind igenous
C anadian sensibility; the articulation o f a universal, humanistic
credo beyond religious particularism — then dramatically cu l­
minating in the recent open identification with Jew ish circum ­
stances. He has fough t politically in su ppo r t o f be league red I s ­
rael, and morally in attacking the Christian sources fo r anti-
Semitism. Layton has always retained close personal ties to com ­
munal institutions as longtime revered instructor at Herzlia H igh
School and lecturer at the Jew ish Public Library. At the sam e time
the Jew ish elements in his poetry were re fracted through the lens
o f his general philosophic and social concerns, or else, more
popularly, were re legated to a form o f light satiric verse ridicu ling
the crass vulgarities o f suburbia.
Since 1967, however, a sign if ican t ch ange ha s o c cu r red ,
sparked by his reaction to Israe l ’s threatened condition and the
world’s ind ifference to the prospect o f its destruction . In a ch ar­
acteristically resolute manner Layton has assum ed the role o f
thundering Prophet excoriating the Christian world fo r its cu lp a ­
bility in providing the theological underp inn ing s for the de stru c­
tion o f Eu ropean Jew ry . T o his long-standing criticism o f Ch ris­
tianity, he add ed the direct responsibility fo r the Holocaust: “ It
was Christianity that carefully p rep a red and seeded the g round
on which E u ro p e ’s ga s chambers and crem atoria flour ished . . .
Christianity contained in its terrible un fo ld ing logic the ex te rm i­
nation o f six million human be ings.” T h e same accusation is
rendered graphically in the poem “ For J e s u s Christ,”