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The Metaphor of Celebrity

The Metaphor of Celebrity: Canadian Poetry and the Public, 1955-1980

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    The Metaphor of Celebrity
    Book Description:

    The Metaphor of Celebrityis an exploration of the significance of literary celebrity in Canadian poetry.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-6616-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-2)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 3-13)

    This book is about poets imagining celebrity when they are not thinking much about money. Although the following chapters help to measure the celebrity of various poets, and although their recognition in public can to some extent be understood in terms of commodities and other such things, my focus is on other issues. Celebrity does move cash; it is transactional, but it is also a cultural phenomenon that obviously depends upon fantasies of more intimate exchanges, and of changing clothes and dressing up to be someone different. Celebrities and fans are involved with each other in such imitation and identification....

  4. 1 The Metaphor of Celebrity
    (pp. 14-36)

    In these lines from “Heron Rex,” Michael Ondaatje shares some of his disturbing thoughts about celebrity. He represents it as “a razor” that gives a star the means of conducting a suicidal “sacrifice” of mind and body. Coming from his bookRat Jelly(1973), these lines imply that the “race” exalted by the sacrifice is also a “rat race” for celebrity – a competition for wealth, power, and prestige that reduces individuals to the status of rodents in “cages.” He suggests furthermore that celebrity cuts through the public-private interface of “the body” into “the mind,” threatening to reveal the private...

  5. 2 The Era of Celebrity in Canadian Poetry
    (pp. 37-59)

    Many people have difficulty believing that celebrity could ever be relevant to Canadian poetry or its history. Their incredulity is mostly due to the obscurity of Canadian poetry today and to legitimate, unanswered scepticism about the type and scope of recognition that Canadian poets have experienced. Information that can help to explain this recognition is not easy to find or validate, but in this chapter I work toward a better understanding of the extent to which some Canadian poets were widely recognized around the years 1955 to 1980, which span what I call the era of celebrity in Canadian poetry....

  6. 3 Becoming ʺToo Publicʺ in the Poetry of Irving Layton
    (pp. 60-91)

    Celebrity for Irving Layton was a serious problem; how to get it, what to do with it, and how to avoid its typecasting effect were questions that he raised in his poetry from the mid-1950s at least until the end of the 1970s. In those years, which I defined in chapter 2 as the era of celebrity in Canadian poetry, Layton emerged as the first star poet in Canada. According to his biographer Elspeth Cameron, “[p]artly because of Irving Layton, poets and poetry in Canada became ‘news’” (368). Later poets variously modified and rejected his model of celebrity but tacitly...

  7. 4 Fighting Words: Layton on Radio and Television
    (pp. 92-100)

    No Canadian poet has a reputation for both self-aggrandizement and outrageous provocation comparable to that of Irving Layton, and he earned that reputation partly on radio and television. Many of his important appearances in the national broadcast media happened in the half decade from 1955 to 1960, when his self-described “BOOM IN LAYTON” (Wild63) was ongoing. During the era of celebrity in Canadian poetry, he was featured on widely heard radio programs such asAnthology,Ideas,As It Happens,Assignment,This Is Robert Fulford, andMorningside; and on television onTabloid,90 Minutes Live,Telescope,Take 30, and others...

  8. 5 Recognition, Anonymity, and Leonard Cohenʹs Stranger Music
    (pp. 101-108)

    In 1993, Leonard Cohen published a career-spanning selection of poetry and song calledStranger Music. This book brought together poems and song lyrics that were mutually promotional. It was thereby Laytonic in attempting to further integrate the high and low cultures associated with those arts. Although the titleStranger Musicseems to acknowledge the defamiliarization produced by the juxtaposition of texts that had previously appeared in very different formats, the book also intends to familiarize Cohen’s fans with other aspects of his writing. The title has various other implications: that his poems are music; that his music is stranger than...

  9. 6 ʺI like that line because itʹs got my name in itʺ: Masochistic Stardom in Cohenʹs Poetry
    (pp. 109-136)

    Leonard Cohen sang in “Bird on the Wire” (1969), “I have tried in my way to be free.” Cohen’s concern for freedom was motivated not only by his mentor Irving Layton’s poetic manifestos but also by his close observation of Layton’s mid-career. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Cohen watched Layton experience a degree of celebrity never before achieved in Canadian poetry, and yet his own celebrity soon reached heights that were far beyond Layton’s grasp. In chapter 3, I argued that Layton understood that celebrity constrained his freedoms of expression and self-definition despite his insistent individualism. Cohen realized...

  10. 7 Celebrity, Sexuality, and the Uncanny in Michael Ondaatjeʹs The Collected Works of Billy the Kid
    (pp. 137-154)

    Balancing the integrity of his privacy with an interest in the public – and the public’s interest in him – has been a concern of Michael Ondaatje almost since the beginning of his career. The relationship between privacy, which he seems to crave (Jewinski 10), and publicity, which he seems to disdain (Marchand par. 5), is not only germane to his life but also to the representation of celebrity in his work. Ondaatje published his first book around ten years into the era of celebrity in Canadian poetry. As I explained in the previous chapters, this era began with Irving...

  11. 8 ʺA Razor in the Bodyʺ: Ondaatjeʹs Rat Jelly and Secular Love
    (pp. 155-172)

    Michael Ondaatje’s interest in writing about the experience of being in a body might at first seem incompatible with his interest in celebrity, which partly depends on images that are less and less dependent on real bodies for their production.¹ In the previous chapter, however, we saw that Billy the Kid’s stardom has little support from images,² and he is arguably very aware of his body and what he can and cannot do with it. He is a highly physical character, one who understands his world through the senses to such an extent that Lee Spinks has commented on Billy’s...

  12. 9 The Magician and His Public in the Poetry of Gwendolyn MacEwen
    (pp. 173-185)

    The previous chapters identify various figures of stardom in Canadian poetry, but the most overtly performative of these figures belong to Gwendolyn MacEwen, who initially represented the artist’s relationship with her public through magicians and other potential stars who work on stage. Like Irving Layton and Leonard Cohen, MacEwen was intrigued by the pretence of religious significance that gives stardom some of its cultural power. Although she suggests in her first novel,Julian the Magician(1963), that celebrities fake their religious significance but then sometimes begin to believe that they are sacred figures, she also suggests that a celebrity’s overconfidence...

  13. 10 Passing and Celebrity in MacEwenʹs The T.E. Lawrence Poems
    (pp. 186-201)

    In 1993, Michael Ondaatje said that watching Gwendolyn MacEwen read to an audience “was the first time [he] had a sense of the poet as a public person. … She was giving herself to the public. She was … the poet who took all risks for poetry” (Sullivan 288). That reading was around twenty years earlier; she was promotingArmies of the Moon(1972), and her celebrity would never again have such promise. Although her celebrity did not reach a height comparable to that of Margaret Atwood or Leonard Cohen, she was known about as widely as Ondaatje during the...

  14. Conclusion: Public, Nation, Now
    (pp. 202-212)

    The common representation of celebrity that emerges from the poetry in the previous chapters is complex but ultimately negative, even distressing. Suicide, murder, slavery, oppression, and repression are all variously and symbolically blamed upon celebrity. The public – represented by photographers, interviewers, lawmen, mythic punishers, variously unwholesome crowds – seems generally ready to invade the privacy of the star and to assimilate or reconfigure the identity of that private self. The identity crisis resulting from the fusion of selves that underlies the metaphor of celebrity –privacy is publicity– is the star’s theoretically total confusion in looking at the...

  15. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 213-214)
  16. Appendix: Four Tables
    (pp. 215-218)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 219-240)
  18. References
    (pp. 241-256)
  19. Index
    (pp. 257-264)