TODD SWIFT EULOGY FOR LOUIS DUDEK
On a more sombre note, we have this in from Canadian poet Todd Swift, now living in Hungary:
Louis Dudek, one of Canada's major modernist poets, poetry activists, polemicists, a founding member of the League of Canadian Poets, a member of the Order of Canada -- and perhaps the greatest advocate of local emerging talent in anglophone Quebec -- has died, age 83.
While his own poetry was often overshadowed by the immense influence his various little magazines, publishing houses and other literary ventures had, especially in the 50s and 60s and 70s, he left a distinguished body of work which may be Canada's most rigorously Modernist in outlook and practice, being directly influenced by major figures of the period such as Ezra Pound (with whom he had an important epistolary relationship) and Cid Corman. Louis Dudek was the mentor of many, like his own mentor Pound, and was responsible for the early publication and recognition of poets Leonard Cohen and Daryl Hine.
Dudek was born in the East End of Montreal, of a family recently migrated from Poland, February 6, 1918. He was raised in that primarily working-class and francophone neighbourhood of Montreal, graduating from McGill University with a BA in 1940. From 1943-1951, he lived in New York City, where he eventually graduated with a Ph.D. from Columbia, and then taught English at (the) City College of New York. His friends at this period included Paul Blackburn and Corman. It was at this time he began exchanging letters with Pound.
Dudek was committed to the idea of controlling the means of production and dissemination of poetry, and promoting the local, as well as the international; thus, he encouraged many emerging poets from his original community, Montreal, as well as from across Canada. Dudek pioneered the role and significance of small press publishing in Canada, particularly in the 60s and 70s, through his work as contributing editor to First Statement (with Irving Layton and John Sutherland), his little magazine Delta (founded in 1957), and the founding of Contact Press in 1952. He was later the editor and publisher of Delta Canada Press, which published the work of R.G. Everson and F.R. Scott, among others. Dudek was also instrumental, through the McGill Poetry Series, in publishing Leonard Cohen at an early stage of his career.
Louis Dudek's own poetry was published over a span of six decades, making him, surely, the grand old man of Canadian letters, in so many ways. His major books include East of the City (1946), the long poem masterpiece replying to Pound, Europe (1955), Atlantis (1967), Continuation (1981) and most recently The Caged Tiger (1997). Dudek's work was marked by a spare, prosaic, dry, probing intellectual manner, which was in some ways reliant on the “local” diction of William Carlos Williams, but the political, cultural and philosophical epigrams and statements his poems were made to contain, owed much more to The Cantos of Pound.
The uncompromising seriousness of his vision alienated him from a wider reading public, and, unlike, say, his near-contemporary Irving Layton, he did not find himself a household name, or god, in quite the same way; more's the pity, as his work will sustain the inevitable posthumous appreciation it all-too-desperately demanded while the poet himself was alive. Dudek's legacy lives on, in the numerous small presses in Canada, the lively 'zine culture, the Quebec Literary Renaissance which inspired The New McGill (Reading) Series, founded by Bill Furey and Todd Swift in the late 80s, and in the newly-reborn DC Books, edited by Robert Allen, which is based on the classic Delta imprint.
Most importantly, his attention to the local -- to the possibility of poetry in his place, in his time, in Montreal -- has led to a never-fading community of excellent Montreal poets; and indeed, in the 1950s and 60s, to the nearly unquestioned poetic dominance of his native city in his nation's poetry.
Louis Dudek will be sorely missed.
March 23rd, 2001
written by Todd Swift
with biographical information from the Internet