D. H. Lawrence, Irving Layton, and Al Purdy: In the Canadian Grain

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Author: Sam Solecki
Editor: Janet Witalec
Date: 2003
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 7,367 words

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[(essay date summer 1993) In the following essay, Solecki compares the works of D. H. Lawrence to the works of Layton and poet Al Purdy in the context of Canadian literature.]

We own the country we grow up in, or we are aliens and invaders.--Ondaatje 81La vrai terre natale est celle où on a eu sa première émotion forte.--Remy de Gourmont

This essay has two concerns whose connection will become apparent only gradually: D. H. Lawrence's influence on Irving Layton and Al Purdy, and the different conceptions or visions of a national literature and identity--what Dennis Lee calls an "imaginative patrimony" (390)--implicit in the bodies of work of the two Canadians. Although I will refer throughout to Lawrence's "influence," the word I really want and can't find would indicate something more than affinity or resemblance and less than influence. Use suggests itself but carries too strong an overtone of a willed or self-conscious attitude on the part of the user. Influence is therefore almost inevitable, although today it is especially problematic because it brings with it the influential Nietzschean and Freudian shadow of Harold Bloom, for whom it refers quite specifically to the relationship between two "strong" poets, the later of whom writes a poem that is a "misprision" or creative misreading of one by his predecessor (thus Wordsworth's great "Ode" is "a misprision of Lycidas" [Map 144]). Without restricting myself to Bloom's elaborate theoretical framework, I will nevertheless adopt his wide definition of influence as a complex relationship between personalities involving much more than verbal resemblance or stylistic mannerisms.1

My concern with influence, however, has a specifically social, historical, and national dimension. This dimension is absent from Bloom's theory, which is ultimately interested only in the history of encounters between strong poets who struggle over imaginative space.2 History in Bloom is always poetic history (of poets and poems), and the only tradition of interest to him is the great tradition of the greatest poets in the language: Milton, the High Romantics, Browning, Whitman, Dickinson, Hardy, and Stevens. In this essay, by contrast, the term history will refer primarily to the history of a national poetic tradition and a national literature. I should also point out at the outset that I am adopting Bloom's adjective--"strong"--in order to apply it, contra-Bloom, to poets such as Layton and Purdy who, I argue, are "strong" not only because they wrestle, as all poets must, with the major poets of the Anglo-American tradition, but also because for them that struggle is inseparable from the attempt to make themselves into modern poets and to create a body of work that is simultaneously--though they couldn't have foreseen it--a vision of a national literature, and therefore of a national identity.3 Implicit in their body of work is an effort to determine that the major line in the national poetic tradition will either originate with, or pass through, them. Strength, I am suggesting, is a quality evident in writers who have a...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100045324