Monday, January 10, 1983

Guerneville Poet Boschka Layton to Read at Copperfield's Books Jan 10. (need tear sheet)


Canadian poet and Guerneville resident Boschka Layton's first book, The Prodigal Sun, by Mosaic Press, Toronto, Canada, has been released in Canada, the US, and abroad. A poetry reading and book party will be held at Copperfield's Books in Sebastopol on January 10 at 8 PM.

The book, a collection of poems, stories, and drawings, all by the author, reflect the style as diversified as the life of Boschka Layton. She has managed to fit in a full-time career as a painter, an editor, graphic designer, mother, and writer all within a 62-year period.

Winner of the Santa Rosa Junior College Fred Minelli Award for creative writing, recipient of an Ontario Arts Council grant, and a Canada Council grant applicant, Layton claims she wrote her first novel at the age of six, and at seven, her second novel, which apparently contained controversial material.

Her second novel was a how-to book for South Sea Islanders in need of instruction on the assembly of codpieces—which was promptly confiscated and burned by her grandmother. She gave up writing for the next 40 years, became an artist and established herself in Montréal, and later, in California.

Born in Liverpool, Nova Scotia, Boschka Layton, then Betty Sutherland, spent the next 12 years traveling across Canada with her family before her mother died. Her father remarried, and added three more brothers and sisters to the Sutherland clan.

Escaping her wicked stepmother, Betty studied art at a vocational school at St. John's, in New Brunswick. Layton remembers when she first became interested in art. Her brother John was sitting at the kitchen table trying to draw an apple. She helped them and in the process, became hooked. John gave up art and took up writing, and she became the artist.

Her brother John, founded an avant garde literary magazine, First Statement, which eventually merged with another periodical to become the illustrious Northern Review.

Betty who was in charge of layout and book design of First Statement, was also a member of the editorial board. In 1941, she met an unknown writer who wanted to publish his work, and three days later they were madly in love.

The tempestuous relationship lasted nearly 20 years and produced two children. Betty later married Irving Layton after the birth of their son, Max. Irving became a well-known poet, who was later "discovered" by the Black Mountain School poet Robert Creeley. But Betty and her brother "discovered" Irving first.

Irving eventually became Canada's premier poet and received numerous awards and grants. Betty continued designing his books, and she painted. She said, "I painted all my life. I didn't stop painting—even when I had my kids."

Betty finally had had enough of Irving's philandering ways, and left him for good, smuggling her small daughter Naomi out of Canada with an underground passport. But she had to leave her son Max behind. In Canada, a child can't obtain a passport without both parents' signatures—and Irving wouldn't sign.

Betty arrived in San Francisco expecting to find work in the publishing business but was unable to find work. She reverted to menial jobs, working at department stores, restaurants, and provided domestic services. Layton remembers, "Working as a char woman, scrubbing floors for an old lady, was rock-bottom."

Betty took up an itinerant life with a man named Price, and the three of them traveled all over the US, living a few weeks in one town or another, while Price looked for work. Layton, fed up with Price's unsuccessful search for work, sold her house in Big Sur, and left for India with her daughter in tow.

Living abroad for two years, Layton said, "India change my whole life. It cleared all the shit out, and it centered me. For the first time, I began to write again. Obviously, I couldn't write while I was with Irving. He was the writer and I was the painter."

Layton compares her India journals to that of DH Lawrence. Layton said, "After India I never lived with a man again. I'm not saying a woman can't paint or write and live with the man at the same time, but for me, that's when the change occurred."

She added, "I began to concentrate more on my own work. At the age of 50, it was about time. "After India, Layton settled in Sonoma County, in 1971, but continued to make yearly sojourns back to Nova Scotia to visit her father. She said, "I started young traveling across the continent. In my work I'm always trying to bring the two coasts together."

When asked why she didn't revert back to her maiden name of Sutherland after her divorce from Layton—she still signs all are her paintings as Sutherland—Boschka commented "my half-brother Donny was becoming well known as an actor then and I didn't want to be smothered by the association."

Actor Donald Sutherland made his first big break in The Dirty Dozen, and started movies such as Luke, Day of the Locust, and the Academy award-winning movie Ordinary People.

Layton, reminisced about her famous half-brother, and said, "Donny was the most extraordinary kid. There was nothing ordinary about him, even though he starred in the movie Ordinary People. I remember when he was three years old and a beautiful woman came to visit. He came running out across the lawn without a stitch on, and presented himself to her at her feet."

Writing under the nom de plume of Boschka Layton, Layton draws heavily upon her life experiences. She has one semi-autobiographical novel finished, and another novel three quarters completed.

She explained the origin of her name. When Betty married Irving, she converted to Judaism and took the name, Bashka, which in Russian Jewish, is a diminutive of Betty. But when she left Irving, she took on the name Bosch from the painter Hieronymus Bosch. The diminutive -ka ending means "little Bosch."

Boschka's poems and short stories have appeared in several local publications including First Leaves, Sonoma Mandala, Sonoma County Stump, and The Red Book. 

As far as future prospects go, Layton said, "I'd like to get a novel out, some poems out, a book of short stories out, so I can go on writing." She concluded, "sending stuff out is the worst part of writing. It takes up too much time. I think I need an agent."

Layton's book, The Prodigal Sun, will be available at Book and Brush, Copperfield's Books, and Eeyore's Books. Reading with Boschka at Copperfield's book party will be Ina Scrocco. The reading will begin at 8 PM, with one dollar admission at the door.

NO TEARSHEET
A shorter version of this story appeared in Rural Arts Services' ARC, a monthly periodical serving rural California. Boschka Layton, ARC article (tearsheet)

Boschka Layton (Betty Sutherland) 1921 - 1984

Boschka Layton, ARC article (tearsheet)


She has lead a colorful life. In 62 years, Guerneville resident Boschka Layton has had a full-time career as a painter, editor, graphic designer, mother and writer. Her first book, The Prodigal Sun, reflects a style as diverse as her life. The Prodigal Sun, a collection of prose, poetry and drawings by Layton, has been released in the US, Canada, and abroad, and was published by Mozaic Press, Toronto.

Winner of the Santa Rosa Junior College’s Fred Mannelli award for creative writing, Ontario Arts Council grant recipient, and Canada Council grant applicant, Layton wrote her first novel at the age of six. At seven, her second novel appeared, containing controversy all material—a how-to book for South Sea Islanders on the assembly of cod pieces—which was promptly confiscated and burned by her grandmother. She gave up writing for the next 40 years and became a painter, establishing herself in Montréal, and later, in California.

Born in Liverpool, Nova Scotia, Layton, Boschka, then Betty Sutherland, spent the next 12 years traveling across Canada with her family. She later studied art at a vocational school, St. John’s, in New Brunswick.

Layton remembers the moment when she first became interested in art. Her brother John was sitting at the kitchen table trying to draw an apple. In the process of helping him, Layton became caught up in the process. John, who was an invalid, gave up art and took up writing, Betty became an artist.

In Montréal, John (Jamie) founded an avant garde literary magazine, entitled First Statement, which merged with another periodical to become the illustrious Northern Review. Layton was in charge of book design.

In 1941, she met an unknown writer who wanted to publish his work. Three days later they were madly in love. She married poet Irving Layton after the birth of their son. Their tempestuous relationship lasted nearly 20 years and produced two children, Max and Naomi.

Irving went on to become Canada’s premier poet, receiving numerous awards and grants while Betty continued designing his books, and painting. She said, “I painted all my life. I didn’t stop painting—even when I had my kids.”

Tired of Irving's megalomania, Betty finally left him, smuggling young Naomi out of Canada with an underground passport, but she had to leave her son Max, behind. In Canada, a child can’t obtain a passport without both parents’ signatures and Irving wouldn’t sign.

Arriving in San Francisco, and unable to find work in the publishing business, Layton resorted to menial jobs at department stores, restaurants, and a stint in the domestic services. She reminisces, “being a charwoman scrubbing floors for an old lady was rock-bottom.”

Betty took up an itinerant life with a man named Price, and the three of them traveled all over the US, living a few weeks in one town or another, while Price looked for work. Wanting stability, somehow, she was able to buy a small cabin on the Big Sur coast. And settled down. But Price was a wanderlust. Layton, fed up with Price's unsuccessful attempts searching for work, eventually sold her house in Big Sur, and left for India with her daughter in tow.

Layton lived in India for two years. “India changed my whole life,”  she said. “It centered me. For the first time I began to write. Obviously, I couldn’t write while I was with Irving. He was the writer and I was the painter.” She added, “I became my own person, an individual. I suddenly knew who I was.”

After Price, she never lived with a man again. “I’m not saying a woman can’t paint or write and live with the man at the same time, but for me, that’s when the change occurred.” She added, “I began to concentrate on my own work. At the age of 50, it was about time.”

Layton settled in Sonoma County in 1971, but continues to make yearly so sojourns to visit her father in Nova Scotia. She said, “I started young, traveling across the continent. In my work I’m always trying to bring the two coasts together. ”

Although she signs her paintings with her maiden name, Sutherland, Layton retained her married name for writing. When she married Irving, she had to convert to Judism. She said that Bashka was a Russian Jewish diminutive of Betty, and the spelling of Boschka was taken from the painter Bosch. (The “ka” meaning little Bosch.)

When I asked Boschka why she didn’t take back her maiden name, she said, “My half brother Donnie was becoming well-known as an actor, and I didn’t want to be smothered by that association.”

Donald Sutherland made his first big break in The Dirty Dozen, and starred in several movies such as M*A*S*H, Klute, Day of the Locust, and the Academy award-winning Ordinary People.

Layton, reminiscing about her famous half-brother, said “Donnie was the most extraordinary child. I remember when he was three years old and a beautiful woman came to visit. He came running out across the lawn without a stitch on and presented himself to her at her feet.” 

In in her writing, Layton draws heavily from her life. She has one semi-autobiographical novel finished, another 3/4 completed. Her poems and short stories have appeared in several local publications including First Leaves, Sonoma Mandala, the Sonoma County Stump, and The Red Book.

As far as future prospects go, Layton said, “I’d like to get a novel out, some poems, and a book of short stories so I can go on writing.” She concluded, “sending stuff out is the worst part of it. It takes up too much time. I think I need an agent.”

A longer version of this article first appeared in The Paper, a Russian River weekly. Guerneville Poet Boschka Layton to Read at Copperfield's Books Jan 10.

Saturday, January 1, 1983

CLOTHED LIKE GREEN BRIDES

CLOTHED LIKE GREEN BRIDES

Amid green hills
transparent trees
hide wintered forms
of houses waiting
in silence.


1/83

AU LAIT

AU LAIT

The ghosts upstairs
are moving furniture at night
while the rest of the world
sends out for coffee

1/1983

ASCENT OF MAN

ASCENT OF MAN
        —for Seamus Heaney

Each dark night carries its own cloud
to measure the flight of birds.
Seals slip upriver to steal souls
& sing the memory of Sweeney to sleep.
It is difficult to single out a shadow
of an individual tree in the forest.

In steamy cafés, the refrain
of silverware & coffee cups
solitary scores orchestrated
simultaneously while the canvas
of vertical history
is painted on the walls of the living
in the streets, & buried in the rift
of the Olduvai Gorge.

1983

Short Poems 1983


ACROSS THE GREAT DIVIDE
(OR WHAT HE REALLY MEANT)

Don't care if you
take me literally, Mama
Just take me

83


AU LAIT

The ghosts upstairs
are moving furniture at night
while the rest of the world
sends out for coffee

1/83



ASCENT OF MAN
        —for Seamus Heaney

Each dark night carries its own cloud
to measure the flight of birds.
Seals slip upriver to steal souls
& sing the memory of Sweeney to sleep.
It is difficult to single out a shadow
of an individual tree in the forest.

In steamy cafés, the refrain
of silverware & coffee cups
solitary scores orchestrated
simultaneously while the canvas
of vertical history
is painted on the walls of the living
in the streets, & buried in the rift
of the Olduvai Gorge.

1983



BOTTOM OF THE NINTH

Our hearts catch an inside curve.
We try to sneak past each other
but the umpire yells foul play
and we are lost at the bottom of the ninth.
The player on third tries to steal home
but the bases are loaded and the score's
zero to zero in the moon's favor.

1983


CLOTHED LIKE GREEN BRIDES

Amid green hills
transparent trees
hide wintered forms
of houses waiting
in silence.

1/83


 COELACANTH

Why can't you hear
the incandescent humming
of the fish in my womb
as you bend to touch me?

        2/83



CRAW

I am trying hard not to think
of the contaminated water.
I raise a glass to my lips
only to discover the throat has memory.

1983



FOR MARILYN

Time is scented,
secret pearl hidden within the folds
of the oyster

The leaf of a blackbird
shaken loose
flutters down toward its own death

Corpses of flowers—
rose petals beneath
Marilyn's stacatto heels

    6/83



 GRANDMOTHER'S DAUGHTER

as I approach my 31st year,
sometimes I see the world
through the memories of my grandmother:
her eyes watching me view the world
through a 12-year-old's vision.

2/83



 Lear's pelican daughters
offer little solace.
Like cactus, their hearts beat
only once every hundred years.
They never dance the sinuous twist
of ht flesh.

2/82



Marguerites growing
amid the marble soils of Crete.
Amid the large columns of bones.
Marguerites strewn across the soil of Crete
blooming between marble columns
and the bones of the temples.
Marguerites holding the clouds up
and keeping the sky at bay.

8/13/1983



MOTHLIGHT

As you breathe in the light,
    darkness, 
softly fallen
  from your face
reveals these burnt wings
rekindled
  in your eyes.

11/23/83
 


 MUSIC NOTES

A violin
breaks the glass.
Seedlings push up earth
as a worm dances to the music.

2/83



NIGHT HERON

Night anchors on the dock
where the marsh heron's mask
is untouched by muddy water.
Only the slender bones of his legs
separate him from water and air. 

 2/83



(NOT)

cats
(not)
sseing
eye to eye
with
dogs

83


 OROVILLE 11/83

Waiters silent mouth cowboy songs
a silent croon, unintelligible, forgettable.
One of the good old boys
butters his toast up the local law,
the biggest, and only game in town.

11/1983



The violin's small scale
climbs above the metronome,
small bejeweled clicks
patterning mountains of notes,
increasing in tempo,
a sonic pitch invades,
the strings lose their time,
the bow loosens
and the hand falls silent.

9/1/1983



VIRGO

In the moonlight,
naked,
I will cook fish

     8/83