From the Montreal Gazette at

Friday 23 March 2001

Poet-teacher Louis Dudek, 83, dies

The Gazette

Montreal poet, editor, literary critic and McGill University professor emeritus Louis Dudek died yesterday in the Royal Victoria Hospital after a lengthy illness. He was 83. Mr. Dudek was one of the country's most important poets, crafting elegant and strongly philosophical verse that many critics say was influenced by Ezra Pound. Montreal poet David Soloway said last night of Mr. Dudek: "He was a grand old man of Canadian letters. He was witty, he was erudite and he was kind. "He was the best teacher I ever had, and I would have never become a poet if it hadn't been for him." Mr. Dudek was, according to literary critic Elaine Kalman Naves, "modest and uninterested in self-promotion, and was also vocal in his opposition to art as a competition and the divisive effects of prize-giving in the world of letters." Louis Dudek was born in Montreal on Feb. 6, 1918, the son of Polish immigrants, and grew up on Bercy St. He was a sickly child who was not expected to live. His mother died when he was 8, shortly after which he began writing poetry.

He obtained his degree in history from McGill University in 1939 and briefly worked as a copy writer. He moved to New York City in 1944 to attend Columbia University. His first book of poetry, East of the City, was published in 1946. He returned to teach at McGill in 1951 and was on staff at the time of his death.
During the 1950s and '60s, Mr. Dudek published Delta, a lively and chance- taking literary magazine, and he singlehandedly started the McGill Poetry series that launched Leonard Cohen's career with Let Us Compare Mythologies. "He was incredibly supportive of small publishers and writers," said Simon Dardick, Vehicule Press publisher. "There are dozens and dozens of writers and publishers who owe him so much. There was such a generosity of spirit there."

In 1954 he published Europe, a long poem in 99 sections. The Transparent Sea came in 1956, En Mexico in 1958 and Atlantis in 1967. He wrote a regular column on books, film and arts for The Gazette in the early 1960s.
His poetry, he once said, came in "gurgling spurts."

"It is almost like a trance, it is from somewhere else, and it is given to you." An anthology, Cross Section: Poems 1940-1980 was published in 1981, and Zembla's Rocks in 1986. "The vapour I breathe out is poetry," he once wrote. "The air I breathe is prose."

A biography, Louis Dudek, by Susan Stromberg-Stein, was published in 1984. That year, he was invested as member of the Order of Canada. The citation honoured him as one of Canada's leading poets, with 25 volumes of verse to his name. Mr. Dudek was much loved as a professor and lecturer. In 1990, his students, friends and fellow poets honoured him with a celebrated evening at Ben's Restaurant, where his peers gave him a special Canadian Writers' Award. His most recent book, Surface of Time, which dealt with death and old age, was published in December. In it, he wrote: "I live, though death is a heavenly sleep." Mr. Dudek married twice, first to Stephanie Zuperko, with whom he had a son, Gregory, and then to Aileen Collins. The funeral was held at 1:30 p.m. on Monday at Centre Funeraille Cote des Neiges, 4525 Cote des Neiges Rd.

Thu, 3 May 2001 04:24:31 -0400

FACULTY OF ARTS: McGill University Resolution on the Death of Emeritus Professor Louis Dudek


Professor Kilgour presented the following resolution on behalf of the
author Professor Trehearne:

Louis Dudek, Professor Emeritus in the Department of English,
passed away on Thursday, March 22nd, 2001, at the age of 83. His
contribution to Canadian literature as essayist, polemicist,
critic and commentator gave the Faculty of Arts one of its most
eminent scholars, but it is as a poet, and a defender of poetry’s
value in our lives, that he will be most keenly missed by a wider
community of Canadian writers and readers.

Professor Dudek was born in Montreal in 1918. He took the B.A. at
McGill in 1939, worked briefly in advertising, and was prominent
among the rebellious young poets who participated in First
Statement (1942-1945), a seminal “little magazine” in the
development of modern Canadian literature. In 1944 he left for
doctoral studies at Columbia University under the eminent
scholars Lionel Trilling and Jacques Barzun, then returned to
McGill in 1951 to join the Department of English. He established
himself promptly on the Canadian scene with his long poems Europe
(1954) and En Mexico (1958). Dudek maintained his commitment to
the long poem throughout his life: Atlantis, a breakthrough
experiment in fragmented modern form, appeared in 1967;
Continuations an ongoing record of the poet’s meditative life
appeared in four volumes from 1981 to 2000. In and among these
high-water marks Dudek published another sixteen volumes of
poetry. His life-long commitment to self-publication, as a means
of ensuring the poet’s freedom from contamination by the
marketplace, and his advocacy of modernism were exemplary for
generations of younger poets.

Indeed, throughout his life, Prof. Dudek was active on their
behalf. Although he vigorously opposed the teaching of creative
writing in universities as yet another means of poetry’s
institutionalization, he was generous with his time and moral
support whenever a young writer approached him with a sheaf of
poems as they did, in their hundreds, across the four decades of
his work at McGill. The most famous of such encounters was the
day in 1955 when a young Leonard Cohen approached him; Dudek’s
response was to establish the McGill Poetry Series at his own
expense, with Cohen’s Let Us Compare Mythologies as its first
title. (It may be apocryphal that he also had the young Cohen
kneel so he could strike him on either shoulder with the
manuscript itself.) This vital role was continued through the
many presses with which he was involved: most notably Contact
Press, which he founded with Raymond Souster and Irving Layton in
1954, Delta Canada (named after his own one-man little magazine),
and DC Books, which he ran with his wife Aileen Collins well into
the 1990s. In the course of these efforts such poets as Margaret
Atwood, Al Purdy, George Bowering, Daryl Hine and D.G. Jones
received vital early publication.

Dudek also earned distinction among the founders of Canadian
literary criticism. His pithy, demanding essays were collected in
various volumes, most notably in Selected Essays and Criticism
(1978) and in a special issue of Open Letter (1981). He was a
regular contributor of articles to Canadian academic journals and
“in keeping with his commitment to literature as part of daily
life” made frequent appearances on CBC Radio and in various
newspapers as a commentator on the arts and culture. Some of his
most noted publications registered his ongoing disagreements with
Northrop Frye and Marshall McLuhan. In the former he found a
dangerous critical propensity to value the contemporary writer
only insofar as he or she replicated the patterns of some
earlier, universalizing vision; in the latter he condemned the
implicit validation of a new popular culture less attentive to
the poet’s vital function. Meanwhile he pronounced substantially
on the complexities of modernism, statements that have since
become required reading such as The Theory of the Image in Modern
Poetry (1981) and The First Person in Literature (1967), from his
lectures on CBC Radio’s “Ideas” program. Dudek did not see such
public and scholarly commitments as detracting from his vocation
as a poet. On the contrary, he always sought forms and modes of
poetry that would allow the expression of intellect and insight
as readily as the articulation of feeling, and later in his
career he found striking new forms for their convergence, perhaps
most notably in Ideas For Poetry (1983).

A gifted and natural lecturer, Dudek created one of the most
popular and challenging courses in the history of the Faculty of
Arts. “Great Writings of Europe,” a linked two-year course,
brought together the finest literature of the last three
centuries in an attempt to understand the dynamic of tradition
and subversion that had reached disastrous climax in the
twentieth century. The course swelled rapidly from an early
enrolment of thirty, to five hundred but (to my personal regret
as his later student) was abandoned in the campus disruptions and
curricular re-directions of the 1960s. He never relented,
however, in the Socratic pedagogy that was his hallmark. A visit
to his office was a vital experience of intellectual uplift and
challenge that never left one indifferent. I still remember
scoffing at T.S. Eliot, thinking to please the man who had
himself shorn Eliot of a few feathers, only to have Dudek wheel
his chair around to my side of the desk, The Waste Land in hand,
and declaim from it passages of such intense beauty that I date
my own dedication to modernist studies from that moment. It could
not be more fitting that the Department of English Students’
Association has named their annual award for excellence in
teaching The Louis Dudek Award, a mark of gratitude that touched
him deeply as he presented the first in 1996.

Though he received such prominent honours as the Order of Canada,
Dudek’s poetry received little critical attention during his
lifetime, a lack I believe he felt keenly, even though he had
always shunned the kinds of fame and reputation that popular
poets will sometimes earn from their publishers and readers. His
death will surely bring about a deepening of attention to his
poetry’s beauty and accomplishment as much as to its
capaciousness of idea. That
so much of that work was written during his years at McGill is
telling of the university as it was once conceived as a place in
which Matthew Arnold, for instance, to whom Dudek has often been
compared, might fulfill both scholarly duties and creative genius
with equal brilliance. We can be grateful for the reminder.

I move, Mr. Dean, that the Faculty send a copy of this
resolution, along with an expression of its deepest sympathy, to
Prof. Dudek’s widow, Aileen Collins, and to his son, Professor
Gregory Dudek of the School of Computer Science.

701.2 Faculty unanimously accepted the resolution.

DUDEK, Louis. On Thursday, March 22, 2001, at the Royal Victoria 
Hospital, after a short illness, Louis Dudek, aged eighty-three, 
Greenshields Emeritus Professor of English at McGill University, 
publisher, poet, literary critic, Order of Canada. Survived by his 
wife Aileen Collins and his loving son Gregory from an 
earlier marriage to Stephanie, daughter-in-law 
Krys, grandchildren Nicholas and Natasha, sisters Lillian 
and Irene (George Lewinski) and nephews Konrad (Jane Agnew), 
John-Anthony (Cheryl), George (Alison Gopnik), great-nephews 
Nicholas, Alexei and Andres. Also survived by 
niece Mary Stewart (Michael Babin) and his great nephews Colin and Adam 
and great-niece Caitlin. Louis Dudek's intellectual vitality 
and honesty, breadth, and profundity served as an 
inspiration to all who knew him. Visitation at Centre Funeraire 
Cote des Neiges, 4525 Cote-des-Neiges, Montreal (514) 342-8000, 
Sunday, March 25 from 2 to 9 p.m., Monday, March 26 
from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. 
Funeral service will be held in the chapel of the 
Centre Funeraire at 1:30 p.m. In lieu of flowers, donations 
can be made in his name to the Canadian Diabetes Foundation.