"I found this in Box 31 of the Layton collection at Concordia University in Montreal. A clutch of pages stapled together; multiple drafts of a poem Irving Layton began, but never completed, towards the end of his writing. An invocation to the muse who was abandoning him. Twenty-five lines on lined paper, in the cramped handwriting of his old age; both neat, and, paradoxically, difficult to decipher. It was dated, with a question mark, early in 1989. Less than four years, then, after I had filmed him happily scribbling poems amid the ruins in his beloved Greece, for my film Poet: Irving Layton Observed. Now in 2001, I was trolling the archives seeking visual material for a new documentary on the poet's life. What struck me immediately was that the power was still there, even as the poet felt it slipping away: "my scribbles are as pale as a watermark." And the voice. This is no self-pitying plaint. It is the poet standing up to his muse and speaking his mind the way the Biblical prophets he so admired stood up to their God. Jocular, prodding, the poem, even in its uncertain state, gives forth the same wounded majesty as those ruins among which Layton paced, mouthing verse, almost 20 years ago."
THE POET'S INVOCATION TO HIS MUSEby Irving LaytonMy alter ego, my diabolical other Selfwhere are you? A whole month goes by,yet not a single peep from you.Let me have it straight! Did you grow carelessfrom too long service? Or was it the tremors of old agemade you spiteful and prankish. You goneinvoking your attendancemy scribbles are as pale as a watermark.No fire in them, no punch. Return, make my brainboil again. Make it seethe with the bloodof electrified hitmen and of gallant warriorsdying in an odious cause. How many sheetsmust I blacken before you [set?] a premonitory fireto make my Self [shudder?] with familiar joy.I'm serious, not even Coleridge's famous odeon despondency cheers me, nor Shelley's moan,marvellous and eloquent, while the bay's watersaround him sparkle and dance.What hope for that mortal so lost to gloom evenanother's misery fails to restore his self-esteem[to rectitude?] with one of life's vital lies or illusions.My case is desperate. Haul your ass over herepronto. Abandoned, I'll sit here foreverlike a paralytic, like a just-invented Frankensteinwaiting for that first charge to shock him back to life.(Translated by Donald Winkler, with help from Anna Pottier. Photo by Terry Brynes. Originally published in Books in Canada, March 2003. )