Did Someone Say, "Chicken Coop Becomes Art Studio"?
After a post-partum downturn following the publication of my memoir, Good As Gone: My Life with Irving Layton - for who could have anticipated Canada would get dementia as far as Irving Layton goes? - things began to look up.
Last year's dry season here in Utah saw me driving my trusty water truck, keeping dust down and the bank account up.
Come late fall, we finally bought a house. A real one, not cookie-cutter, not ticky-tack. As I write this, I look out onto a sylvan paradise. Over half-an acre of pine, cedar, fruit trees, honeysuckle, roses, yucca, and oh yes, a towering sycamore.
Perhaps the best feature of all: a chicken coop / horse barn built in 1943 which will become my ART STUDIO! Until then, I make do with the landing area atop the stairs, with its abundant north light. The chicken coop conversion will It take a lot of work.
Most bucket list items do.
Wait long enough, and good things happen, such as this fine review!
It was just a matter of time before Good As Gone: My Life with Irving Layton encountered the reviewer it deserved. Here is Anne Cimon in the February 2016 issue of Montreal Serai
Good as Gone: My Life with Irving Layton, Anna Pottier, Dundurn Press, 2015, 336 pages
In her recently published memoir Good as Gone, about her marriage with internationally renowned Canadian poet, the late Irving Layton, Anna Pottier boldly asserts that “modern Canadian poetry was born in Irving’s living-room” in his “tiny house” on Kildare Road in Montreal where he lived with his third wife, Aviva Layton, in the mid-1950s. This informal gathering of local poets took place every Friday night and Leonard Cohen, then in his early twenties, dropped by. He immediately impressed the well-known Layton with his early poems.
Pottier, in a chapter entitled “The Golden Boy,” describes her meeting with Cohen, a close friend of Layton, on June 7, 1984. She wants to set the record straight on literary myths such as Layton having been Cohen’s mentor. This irritated Layton, she writes, because it was not the truth. And this is what Pottier wants to reveal in her passionate account of the twelve years she shared with Layton, years that she admits have marked her deeply, irrevocably.
Pottier, born in the Acadian village of Belleville, Nova Scotia, dreamed of becoming a writer, not a doctor, as her parents wanted her to be. In 1981, as a twenty one year old student at Halifax’s Dalhousie University, she attended a poetry reading and met Irving Layton who was famous, married, and forty-eight years her senior. They began a correspondence, and when Layton separated from his fourth wife, Harriet Bernstein, two years later, he invited Pottier to move into his Niagara-on-the-Lake home as his housekeeper. She agreed, thrilled that he took an interest in her poems and encouraged her to write.
Pottier began this memoir soon after the death of Irving Layton in January 2006. She defines it as “my homage to and thanks for all that he lavished on me: his absolute trust, an Ivy League education taught at the table, during long walks, and in the pre-dawn light as he challenged me like the extraordinary teacher that he was, all imbued with unconditional love.”
In Good as Gone, Pottier, who now lives in Utah, is remarried, and is a painter in demand in art exhibitions, writes with candour about her relationship with Irving Layton. Since the beginning, she kept personal journals that were very detailed, included verbatim conversations, and notes about Layton’s views on life, death, and the poetic process.
Pottier (her birth name was Annette but Layton preferred to call her Anna, which she agreed to) was as meticulous in her journal keeping as in her work as assistant in preparing the poet’s later books for publication such as his childhood memoir Waiting for the Messiah. Pottier remembers laboriously typing draft after draft on a typewriter, PCs not yet widely in use. Among the interesting selection of rarely seen black and white photos, is one taken by Pottier in May 1985 at their house on Monkland Avenue in the NDG area of Montreal. It is of Layton sitting on the sofa, gazing into the camera, his look bemused and exhausted, the final manuscript pages spread around him on the cushions and coffee table. As she notes in the caption, they had little time to relax as they were bound for Athens.
Some of the best chapters are those that describe the couple’s trips to Italy, a country where Layton’s poetry won deep respect in large part due to the brilliant scholar and translator Alfredo Rizzardi, who promoted Canadian Studies at the University of Bologna. In fact, Italy would nominate Layton’s work twice for the Nobel Prize in Literature.
In an uninhibited voice, Pottier recalls how she accompanied her husband-to-be to the International Festival of Poets, where he had been invited to give readings:
“Landing at Fiumicino, I had to pinch myself. Barely one year earlier, I had come through Rome as a nearly penniless hitchhiker, solitary, hungry, and barely distinguishable from millions of other backpackers. How very, very different for me now, stepping out into the Roman air, warm with oleander, refined perfumes, Marlboro cigarette smoke, and testosterone, on the arm of a poet who was soon to be received like a rock star.”
Pottier also found that Italians accepted their age difference, and this freed her of self-consciousness, being looked upon as the youthful muse of a famous aging poet. One of the happiest of the anecdotes from Italy is in “Lunch with Ettore and Fellini,” when Layton meets and entertains the great filmmaker of 8 1/2, Amarcord, La Dolce Vita, and she finds herself in Fellini’s Mercedes.
Not her family’s rejection, or the complications with Layton’s ex-wives and adult children, could undermine their solid marriage, but their age difference eventually did.
Accompanying Layton on worldwide cultural trips as he aged became traumatic. In 1992, a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease and the beginning of Alzheimer’s, confirmed Pottier’s unspoken fear that she might be incapable to assist her beloved husband as he lost control of body and mind.
With harrowing honesty, Pottier relates how being the caregiver eventually led to burnout. Tears became frequent between the couple rather than the laughter that had bound them. Pottier began an affair with a younger man than herself, and sought the counsel of one of Layton’s lifelong friends, also her friend at the time, Musia Schwartz, who agreed that she should separate and offered to care for Layton.
In Good as Gone, Pottier vividly captures the impersonal cruelty of aging and conveys the love and creativity of their marriage. She writes how she still misses the man and poet who had made so many of her days extraordinary, the memoir a heartfelt testimony to this truth.
Anne Cimon is a Montreal writer and poet who was a student of Irving Layton in late seventies and has published several articles on his life and art.
*NEWSFLASH* Did someone say statewide art competition?
As often happens, I see something and - boom - act on it with a certain degree of "Yes!", that mysterious indicator that something good will come of it.
A few weeks ago, I received an invitation from the Eccles Community Art Center up in Ogden, UT. They've been around for a long time and seem to trail quite a bit of prestige. In fact, a few years ago, I entered their venerable state-wide photography show. Both "Green Truck" and one of my "Eye of the Beholder" series, were rejected.
Undaunted, I felt certain that "Summer - or- The Sugar Cone" would fit the bill. Cutting it perilously close to the deadline, I had a giclée print made, framed it, and dropped it off for consideration.
Weellll….success! Reception is on Friday, February 5th, 6 - 8 pm. It feels very good to be stoking the visual arts fire after all this time at my keyboard.
The "Ask Me Anything" book tour: success…and now, for something completely different
All too briefly, let me just say that the whirlwind tour was a short but sweet one, with four appearances in Halifax and Montreal, including a wonderful time at Concordia University. Great audience, great questions.
It took a bit of time to settle back down to daily life here in Utah -- I say "daily", not "ordinary" life, as I just don't do "ordinary" as a rule.
So now, following a near-catastrophic car purchase (just don't ever buy a 2006 BMW 750i. Enough said), and plunging into Operation Sort & Box, 2016 bodes well.
What's Operation Sort & Box? This: going through ephemera and cataloguing what remains of Irving's papers, as well as sorting and indexing the Pottier Fonds. Sounds odd to use the term, but Concordia University wants Irving-bilia for their world-class archive, the Layton Collection, and yes, they want the Pottier Fonds.
Stay tuned for more on my next adventure: "Driving Irving", an essay commemorating the task of letting go of the last remnants that link my life to Irving's. Once sorted, indexed, catalogued, and suitably boxed, the plan is to drive solo from Salt Lake City back to Montreal. Driving Irving home.
As you can see, my motto still rings true: Live Big and Go Far. Do stay tuned, it's going to be a blast.
In case you missed it...
While in Halifax, I was invited to CTV Atlantic's studios for an interview with Jason Baxter, their Live at 5 news anchor. Thank you Suzette Belliveau (down home gal) who made it happen.
Good As Gone: My Life with Irving Layton :: the "Ask Me Anything" Book Tour Udates
Halifax, Nova Scotia: Thursday November 26th, at 6:30pm - The official book launch! - at the Halifax Central Library, 5440 Spring Garden Rd., in the Paul O'Regan Hall. (info: 902-490-5700)
Montreal, Quebec: Friday November 27th, at 5:30pm: book-signing as part of the Atwater Writers' Exhibition (AWE) at the Atwater Library, 1200 Atwater Ave., Westmount, QC (info: 514-935-7344). Wine & cheese: 6-8pm.
Montreal, Quebec: Tuesday December 1st, at 4:00pm: reading / talk at Concordia University. Room # TBD. Likely in the Webster Library Bldg., 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.
Hoping to arrange more appearances in other cities. Details will be posted as soon as they are available.
*Fresh Tour Updates*
DATELINE: November 9, 2015
We're still looking at an alternate Ottawa reading and a Toronto one as well. In the off chance we can't book a Toronto reading, I will still be venturing to TO. Lots of people I want to see. Meanwhile, here's the scoop:
HALIFAX:...where it all began…November 26, 6:6:30pm, Halifax Central Library, in the Paul O'Regan Hall. Thank you BookMark, Halifax's premier independent bookstore who will be on-site with books for anyone wishing to get a signed copy.
OTTAWA:… still a possibility…TBD
MONTREAL #1:…ground zero, really…Two appearances! I will am DELIGHTED to announce my participation in AWE (Atwater Writers' Exhibition) with a book signing at the Atwater Library on Friday, November 27th at 5:30pm, and the wine & cheese reception follows from 6:00 - 8:00pm.
MONTREAL #2: Date and exact venue TBD, but I will be giving a reading at Concordia University in the first days of December. Also delighted to know that there will be a presentation by a librarian specializing in Concordia's Layton Collection. This reading will likely be during the day, and primarily for students, though I am 99% certain the public will be welcome to attend. Watch this space for further details.
TORONTO…did I mention for old times' sake?…Date and venue TBD
More details and updates to follow.
Dateline: November 7, 2015:
For reasons known only to themselves, Ottawa's Soloway Jewish Community Center cancelled after twice confirming my appearance there. Apparently, they have a "big event" planned for December 1, but it "wasn't on the calendar" at the time when the lady in charge of booking events confirmed my reading there.
OH WELL. That's the way the matzoh ball bounces. Watch this space, as an alternate Ottawa gig may yet be added.
LET THE TOUR BEGIN!
Dateline: 28 October, 2015:
I am delighted to announce that Good As Gone: My Life with Irving Layton will finally be launched in style at the spectacular new library on Halifax's Spring Garden Road. It is only fitting, as Halifax is where I attended Dalhousie University and there, met the poet Irving Layton.
HALIFAX...where it all began…November 26, 6:6:30pm, Halifax Central Library, in the Paul O'Regan Hall.
OTTAWA… for old times' sake…December 1, 7:30pm, Soloway Jewish Community Center
MONTREAL…ground zero, really…Date TBD, Concordia University
TORONTO…did I mention for old times' sake?…Date and venue TBD
More details and updates to follow.
DATELINE May 2, 2015:
CATCHING UP ON THE NEWS: While the post-publication media has not yet been saturated with articles and interviews about Good as Gone: My Life with Irving Layton, safe to say the process is underway. I like to think that the overwhelming number of messages I've received (all superbly positive) from people who read the book indicate that word of Good as Gone will spread like a wildfire, at its own speed and from reader to reader. That said, every author hopes to see favorable reviews in the traditional press. Here is the Montreal Gazette's excerpt from today's paper.
And later today, a link to Carla Allen's profile piece which appeared in Yarmouth Nova Scotia's The Vanguard newspaper.
Beginning on February 16, 2015 -- exactly thirty-four years to the day since I first met Irving Layton -- we will be giving away 10 copies of Good as Gone: My Life with Irving Layton. Contest closes on March 6, 2015. Click on the Goodreads Author Page tab (here on my webpage) to catch up on my more writerly doings. There will be an easy click to enter button for the Giveaway as of midnight February 15, 2015.
DATELINE: December 26, 2014
By the time Good as Gone: My LIfe with Irving Layton hits the bookstores – slated for March 14, 2014 – it will mark the end of a nine-year span. In some ways, I began writing the book decades earlier, perhaps even as early as February 16th, 1981. That was when I attended Irving's poetry reading at Dalhousie University and had the premonition he and I would become a couple. It was going to be a larger-than-life story, and I was determined to live as well as write it.
That was then. This is now and the page proofs have arrived. One can never have too many "I can die happy" moments, and seeing the page proofs surely qualifies.
I do believe 2015 will be rife with adventures, triumphs, and unique bursts of splendiferous sensations -- all of which I am more than ready for.
DATELINE: 5 September, 2014
Great. Added a new photo to my PHOTOS tab, and managed to accidentally delete the entire folder. This means rebuilding it over the next few days…sheesh.
Between now and MARCH 14, 2015...
DATELINE: 5 September, 2014:
As summer begins to slip into fall, I am settling down to the exacting task of editing Good As Gone: My Life WIth Irving Layton. Fortunately, Dundurn Press assigned Michael Melgaard as my editor. Who knew how he would turn the challenge into an (almost) fun exercise.
The biggest hurdle we face, aside from the expected shifting around of paragraphs to improve the flow. Not at all surprising for a book that took me ten years to write, and the first half of it written pretty much out of sequence. A powerful memory or new perspective would well up, and that became the next chapter. Our main challenge is to bring the text down to a more manageable length. Just because it happened, does not mean I can include it!
So, after yesterday's minor surgical procedure (the old straighten the deviated septum trick), I am, as usual, bloodied but unbowed, and settling down to work.
Good As Gone's publication date is: March 14, 2015, and something tells me time is about to start flying!
GOOD AS GONE: My Life with Irving Layton is (almost) here!
June arrives with the news that Good As Gone is available for pre-sale on Amazon.ca.
Here is the link:
Thank you for patiently awaiting further word on the memoir's progress.
Hard to believe my last update was back in August! Part of the long silence was the need to keep it on the low-down in terms of which publisher was looking at the proposal.
As one can imagine, it was difficult to continue writing while holding my breath. Finally, after several weeks, Grant and I were returning from a road trip to Marfa, Texas. Last night on the road, we stopped in Cortez, New Mexico. That's where I read that long-awaited email: "Book deal!"
So, I am happy to announce that GOOD AS GONE: My Life With Irving Layton is being published by Dundurn Press. They are Canada's longest-standing independent publisher. It's too early in the process to set a publication date. First things first: I am to deliver the manuscript by the first of April, 2014. Will that mean making the fall publication list? Check back for updates!
Closer to what? To getting GOOD AS GONE: My Life With Irving Layton published. The proposal and sample chapters were sent out on 08/08/2013. No ordinary date. It marked the 5th anniversary of when I left Montreal to embark on a road trip. I was 49, no job, no kids, no pets, no plants, and a 40-lb backpack. Only by grabbing adventure by the horns did I find the energy needed to complete GOOD AS GONE.
Watch this space, as there will be lots of good news to share in the coming weeks and months.
As the label suggests, the box contains some letters from my mother. The earliest was a post-card sent in 1967 when my parents took the only vacation I recall: a trip to Montreal's Expo '67. I came across these while packing for our recent move to a new home. Her letters to me are scattered throughout my files and papers, waiting to be put in their proper file.
Our correspondence began in 1975 when I left Belleville, Nova Scotia for Cohasset, MA, to serve as a live-in babysitter for two darling little girls. Even back then, her quirky style, as unique as herself, made quite the document. As does my painfully edited thoughts. Decades later, I can still recall how careful I had to be, clipping my verve time and time again so as not to elicit tidal waves of scorn and disapproval. She had a bottomless supply of that for me. Over time, when life became more adult and I made choices like marrying a much-older Jewish poet, well, the cotton candy really hit the fan. How badly? Any collateral damage? Very badly, with plenty of collateral damage. I'd long thought of one day publishing a selection of our letters. She must have sensed it, for after she passed away in May of 2011, I searched the house for my stack of letters to her.
Aside from maybe three of four I'd mailed in the previous months, not one of my letters to her - a virtual body of work 36 years in the making - survived. Though she saved everything, such as leftover gauze from when my brother accidentally blew his finger off, c.1974, and every random doodle my niece made as a toddler - these were carefully preserved. My letters, however, seem to have been burned as one would burn incriminating evidence in the basement's devouring furnace.
Those letters chronicled not only my life, but the telling way I had to edit and couch every single word in order to try to preclude her chronic disapproval. Her letters are perhaps a unique document in terms of an Acadian woman who had had to leave school at very young age, writing as she spoke (albeit in English, not Acadian French), detailing village life, gossip, doings, and her non-stop sermon from the mount regarding my [errant] life.
Looks as if she wanted the last word…but we don't always get what we want, do we?
Where O Where?
As many of you know, I am currently hard at work on GOOD AS GONE: My Life With Irving Layton. For the time being, this takes every ounce of creative juice, aside from the occasional photo. For me, there is no division between writing, painting, drawing, or photography. The energy needed for each may differ slightly, but the goal remains identical: make your mark as best you can. So, there will be no new paintings on my easel in the immediate future. Do watch this space and / or Anna Pottier-Hickman Art (on Facebook) for more updates. Happily, I am nearly 49,000 words in, and can dare hope the book will do its subject proud.
Honorable Mention....in my first photography show!
It's official! Green Truck won an Honorable Mention in the Utah County Art Gallery Photography Show! It, along with Eye of the Beholder_5 (for Garo Deirmendjian) will be on display in Provo (inside the Health and Justice Building) until November 16th.
Happy to announce that two photos were accepted into the Utah County Art Gallery Photography Show! Reception on Friday 6 October in Provo, UT. The two photos: Green Truck and Eye of the Beholder_5 (for Garo D.) Thank you Grant for sacrificing your college football Saturday!
How lucky am I?
Very. Went on my first camping trip, Grant as trip leader, and we stumbled upon one breath-taking vista after another. Can you say Escalante? This while reading all about Georgia O'Keeffe and her love for New Mexico canyons....here were canyons!! Above all, the silence. Profoundly restorative. Paintings will come from this trip in due course.
Nova Scotia beckons
July 11-18: Shall be spending a week re-visiting Belleville, Nova Scotia and showing Grant the wheres and whys of who I am. Fried clams, salt air, and, if we can snag tickets: a dance at Le Club for possibly the last Acadian Festival in Ste. Anne du Ruisseau.
Two pieces, NDG Bloom No. 4 and Cope 2, were selected for the Utah County Spring Fine Arts Show, Provo, Utah, 28 April - 29 June, 2012.