Louis Dudek: The Surface of Time

Louis Dudek's first volume of poems appeared in 1946, and he has
been publishing regularly ever since. Moreover, in recent years, he has
been producing poems of extraordinary vigor and grace while in his ninth
decade. Like Wordsworth, who described himself as "a Teacher or nothing,"
Dudek sees poetry as a medium for saying something, and the didactic impulse
here is as strong as ever. His poetry has always been a sly amalgam of
verse and epigram, and his close study of Ezra Pound has enabled him to
master the rhythms and cadences of the free-verse poetic line. Moreover,
in his more recent verse, he has inserted an increased lyricism that gives
his poems of old age a haunting, timeless quality.

Most of the poems here are short, simple, well controlled, poignant.
In addition, the final contribution brings to a close his "Continuation"
series, which began 20 years ago with Continuation I and was followed
by Continuation II in 1988. As he explains in a preface, four sections
of "Continuation III" appeared in The Caged Tiger (1997) "followed
by 'Bits and Pieces,' which is really Section 5." The sequence reproduced
here completes the series. It is Dudek's last, rambling, long philosophical
poem, and now stands alongside Europe, En Mexico and Atlantis
as another of his major statements.

The Japanese have an odd but charming practice of designating not
only places and art objects but also people as "National Treasures." Dudek's
numerous achievements as poet, shrewd critic, pioneering publisher of little
magazines and chapbooks, and tireless supporter of young writers qualify
him admirably for a Canadian equivalent. These poems are by turn relaxed,
humorous, philosophical, sometimes even numinous; easy to read the first
time, they are full of the sagesse that rewards rereadings. An admirable
late flowering at the close of an impressive, even awesome career.

W.J. Keith

Canadian Book Review Annual 2000