15 March 2012

Irving Layton Rides a Rooster

Frank Newfeld doesn't figure in Irving Layton's memoir Waiting for the Messiah, he makes no appearance in Elspeth Cameron's 517-page Layton biography, and yet I'd argue that the designer's work played a key role in the poet's public persona.

I don't think I'm stepping out on too frail a limb in writing that The Laughing Rooster (working titles: Poems in Bad Taste and The Indelicate Touch) is the most illustrious Layton cover. It displays a bit of the whimsy that we might have seen in Newfeld's rejected "tits" cover for Leonard Cohen. Published by McClelland & Stewart in 1964, it opens in cinematic style with sixteen pages of images, credits, contents, dedication and more. At one point, rooster and poet face off.

The former seems to win – the rooster's image appears four more times before Layton begins his Preface.

Of course, it all really begins with Newfeld's first Layton cover, A Red Carpet for the Sun (1959). The poet's big press debut, it sold more than 8000 copies, elevating Layton to the level of national celebrity.

A Red Carpet for the Sun
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1959

Those eyes. Were they too intense for our cousins to the south? A different Newfeld design was used in the American edition. A shame. 

A Red Carpet for the Sun
Highlands, NC: Jonathan Williams, 1959

The Swinging Flesh
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1961

Balls for a One-Armed Juggler
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1963

Periods of the Moon
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1967

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