The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Golfers” is a short poem in free verse. It comprises three stanzas of three lines each, a parenthetical single-line stanza, and a closing couplet. It belongs to one of the most intensely creative and productive periods in Irving Layton’s long publishing career as a poet—the middle to late 1950’s and the early 1960’s—when he wrote some of the best and most memorable of his poems. Many of his poems of this period celebrate the creative urge so central to Layton’s life and writing. The central observation of “Golfers” is one that is voiced over and over in Layton’s poetry: contempt for those whom he believes deny the life force by leading lives and taking moral stances that seem to Layton sterile and static.

Of the many volumes in which “Golfers” has appeared since its first publication in Layton’s seventh solely authored collection, The Blue Propeller (1955), the one that seems best suited to its tone and intent is F. R. Scott and A. J. M. Smith’s The Blasted Pine: An Anthology of Satire, Invective, and Disrespectful Verse, first published in 1957 and reissued in a second edition in 1967, Canada’s centennial year. In both editions, “Golfers” is included in a section entitled “Solid Citizens,” in which Canadians, particularly of Anglo-Scottish descent, and their institutions and mores are the chief target of the satirical verse. Though it is nowhere stated in Jewish poet Layton’s poem that the golfers depicted are Gentile, they do seem the epitome of the “country-club set”: smug and exclusive Gentile materialists and nation-builders that the professedly atheist but strongly Hebraist and socialist Layton abhorred and whom he has pilloried all of his writing life.

In “Golfers,” Layton depicts golf, a slow, mannered game of strategy and precision, as the choice of those people who relate not at all to earthy, Dionysian joy—the sensual, creative principle—but who cultivate a cerebral sterility of morality, mind, and spirit. Wynne Frances, in a critical work on Irving Layton, says:Philistinism is the name Layton gives to that compound of smugness, rigidity, gentility, complacency, materialism, and moral apathy that he regards as the most insidious threat to the creative spirit. He attacks it wherever he finds itanywhere in the world.