The Books of My Numberless Dreams

Not a Valentine’s Poem

Posted on: February 14, 2007

I recently picked up a used 1968 copy of Irving Layton’s Collected Poems and have been itching to post selections. Today I thought of delaying it again, and pick a vicious Layton love poem instead. But I’m not in the mood for it so you’ll get my original offering. This is poetry not that weird Tate prose stuff.


Because I have wanted to give a truthful account of the world as I experienced it, the superficial and timorous, as well as the lackbrains who cannot tell a poem from a peanut, are anxious to spread the notion that I delight in peppering my poems with four-letter obscenities; or that I am preoccupied with sex to the exclusion of more endearing subjects, such as religion and death. Or–this from the most recently imported cockatoo–that I favour a loose, slapdash style of writing and have even seduced some unwary poetry in this country to imitate me. But why go on? Every poet worth his salt tears, his epiphanies and insights, collects over the years his noisy gaggle of detractors. It cannot be helped–the poet being what he is and they what they are. But let me deal generously with them; may they prosper no worse than my poems and be around to point out their lamentable defects until that time comes when my poems can find no one wanting to read them. – Irving Layton

Montreal, Quebec

May 12, 1965


When reading me, I want you to feel
   as if I had ripped your skin off;
Or gouged out your eyes with my fingers;
Or scalped you, and afterwards burnt your hair
   in the staring sockets; having first filled them
with fluid from your son’s lighter.
I want you to feel as if I had slammed
   your child’s head against a spike;
And cut off your member and stuck it in your
   wife’s mouth to smoke like a cigar.

For I do not write to improve your soul;
   or to make you feel better, or more humane;
Nor do I write to give you any new emotions;
Or to make you proud to be able to experience them
   or to recognize them in others.
I leave that to the fraternity of lying poets
   –no prophets, but toadies and trained seals!
How much evil there is in the best of them
   as their envy and impotence flower into poems
And their anality into love of man, into virtue:
Especially when they tell you, sensitively,
   what it feels like to be a potato.

I write for the young man, demented,
   who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima;
I write for Nasser and Ben Gurion;
For Krushchev and President Kennedy;
   for the Defence Secretary
voted forty-six billions for the extirpation
   of humans everywhere.
I write for the Polish officers machine-gunned
   in the Katyn forest;
I write for the gassed, burnt, tortured,
   and humiliated everywhere;
I write for Castro and tse-Tung, the only poets
   I ever learned anything from;
I write for Adolph Eichmann, compliant clerk
   to that madman, the human race;
For his devoted wife and loyal son.

Give me words fierce and jagged enough
   to tear your skin like shrapnel;
Hot and searing enough to fuse
   the flesh off your blackened skeleton;
Words with the sound of crunching bones or bursting
   or a nose being smashed with a gun butt;
Words with the soft plash of intestines
   falling out of your belly;
Or cruel and sad as the thought which tells you
      “This is the end”
And you feel Time oozing out of your veins
   and yourself becoming one with the weightless dark.

4 Responses to "Not a Valentine’s Poem"

This is a worthless poem. It doesn’t realize what it asserts. The poem’s subject is its own communicative potency, and its violent rhetoric is meant to dramatize this idea; however, the diction is attenuated by stock phrases, syntactical predictability, and an cowardly absence of imaginative risk-taking. An authentically “violent” poem would perhaps need to launch a sort of blitzkrieg on the conventional use of language. Compared to Stevens’s “Poetry is a Destructive Force,” to take just one of many superior examples, Layton’s poem is no more impressive than the boastings of some adolescent, foulmouth bully. “Whom I Write For,” like many of Layton’s poems, is just a big bluff by a big bully of poet.

This is a worthy poem. It realizes what it asserts.

It hold the mechanical body before your eyes
It shows you everything you forgot/never knew

you would have forgotten it anyways. You’re body is insensitive. You cannot feel emotion. You can only feel physical pain.

That is what we have been reduced to.

Hello colleagues, nice paragraph and pleasant urging commented
at this place, I am genuinely enjoying by these.

I really only wanted to ask
Mr. Cohen if he was really
A Tall Man but I was stuck with trying to decide
If I could tolerate the undertaking of being equivocally or
At least Similar To
the first one, the unabashed first one
and never the least not nearly the last one
to really really really

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