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Eric Layman:
Portrait
of an Artist

[This article was published in the January 2000 issue of The Voyageur.]

By Lloyd Landa

Hudson Bay member Eric Layman is many things: published poet, science-fiction novelist and short-story writer, part-time writer and editor at Canadian Jewish News—but above all, he's an artist.

Members who attended Eric's lecture on world-building at the November 1999 Open Meeting, or read his thoughts in the Nov./Dec. Voyageur on how he creates entire universes consistent within themselves, caught a glimpse of how the gentle, thoughtful man I'm proud to call friend weaves otherworldly tapestries that draw readers and listeners into dimensions of Eric's exceptionally fertile imagination.

Eric makes the world of a species he invented, the Hlu, come alive with rich, relevant detail. He believes, as does Larry Niven, that "God is in the details" when building a universe from scratch. It's a trait that spills over into his other chosen field, poetry.

Toronto heard samples of his work and views on art and artists on Nov. 2l [1999], when he was a guest on Nik Beat's CIUT (89.1) Sunday afternoon poetry program, "Howl." Listeners learned how Eric balances the need to make a living with the urge that drives him to excel at poetry, prose and even filk songs:

"It's really quite simple. I hang in there and forge ahead, even when the odds of success make what I'm doing seem rather stupid. Often, what seems the 'stupid' thing to do is the most life-affirming—and that's why I do it," said Eric.

That's why her plies his craft in a cold, uncaring city jam-packed with too many other artists chasing too few dreams. That's why he often rides his bike long distances in all kinds of weather—just to clear his head—eats meals at midnight, and tries to cram in a couple of hours' writing before he finally calls it a night.

That's why he brushed aside Ink Beat's observations about the shrinking lack of opportunity for Canadian artists by simply responding that the answer is to "plug away, every day." He's far too busy living in his incredibly intricate world of imagination to worry about whether he'll ever receive an Order of Canada award for his poetry—or even sell a manuscript or short story to a major publisher.

That doesn't mean that he's not out there knocking on doors, either. It's just that the act of creation, for Eric, is sacred in and of itself.

"For too many years, I was underemployed. At least the job I have now, which takes up about three-quarters of my time, means I actually have enough to eat and can afford the exorbitant postage to mail manuscripts to publishers too backward-thinking to accept submissions by e-mail," he told CIUT listeners.

"Too many artists I've met are paralyzed by the understandable angst created by insurmountable roadblocks to getting themselves seen, heard, or read. They tend to agonize over obstacles instead of focusing their energies on writing that next great play or song."

Eric tries to convey some of that wonderfully bloody-minded perseverance to students at his poetry workshops, which he's been holding on and off over the past few years.

"I try to impart what I know about the craft of poetry writing, and expand my students' horizons about form. Most of them don't know much beyond free verse; some had never heard of a sonnet. But above all, I want them to understand that if they want to be writers, they should write. Keep writing. Then revise. Edit. Write again, until they have something that truly stands up."

After fielding some queries from Ink Beat about his background (BC-born, an Air Force brat who lived in the West and London, Ontario before coming to Toronto in 1957 when he was 14), Eric recited a few of his poems on air. "And the Coffee Got Better" is a look at Toronto artistic pretensions, displaying Eric's uncanny attention to detail and his gift of concrete, accessible imagery. "Fire Hair at Sunset" is a look at a fantasy Toronto, again laden with memorable metaphors, drenched in moody atmosphere. Then there's a filk song about asteroid miners. He finished with "Never Book A Trip To Terra," poking fun at an over-regulated Earth and its weakened-immune-system inhabitants.

A man with near-inexhaustible stores of energy and an unshakeable belief in his artistic vision, Eric will continue to create as long as he draws breath. And that's worth 100 Orders of Canada.


Some material written by Eric Layman on this site: an article on world-building from 1999; and book reviews from 2002, for which he was an Aurora Award finalist in 2003 for fan writing:


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