Dudek, Louis

Louis Dudek, poet, critic, professor and literary activist (b at Montréal 6 Feb 1918; d at Montréal 22 March 2001). He was educated in Montréal and went to McGill (BA), where he wrote for the McGill Daily. His early poems began to appear in 1941-42 in the McGill Daily, and at about this time he became involved with First Statement, the first of a series of engagé acts in the little press and little magazine movement in Canada. In 1944 Dudek moved to New York, where he entered graduate school at Columbia; his doctoral dissertation was published as Literature and the Press (1960). In 1951 Dudek returned to Montréal to take up an appointment at McGill. While in New York, he had continued to contribute poems, reviews and articles to Northern Review.

In 1952, together with Irving Layton and Raymond Souster he established Contact Press, a venture which published most of the important Canadian poets of the fifties and sixties, with Cerebus (1952), the first title, being a jointly authored collection of poetry. With Layton and Aileen Collins, whom he later married, he founded an avant-garde magazine in 1954, CIV/n, and in 1956 established The McGill Poetry Series, launching the careers of Leonard Cohen and Daryl Hine.

In 1957 Dudek founded his own little magazine, Delta (1957-66), a vehicle for his poetry and ideas, and in which he featured the work of many promising new poets. His own writing had been evolving steadily out of the lyricism and social concern of East of the City (1946) into the longer, meditative statement of Europe (1954, The Transparent Sea, 1956, and En Mexico, 1958). He had become (not unlike his friend and correspondent, Ezra Pound) less a poet of the everyday and more a critic of civilization. He had also developed a distinctive poetic voice: thoughtful and undramatic. At odds with the literary histrionics and the cultural currents of the 1960s, Dudek withdrew into his teaching and the writing of his long poem, Atlantis (1967).

In 1963 he joined with others to found a little press, Delta Canada (1963-71), which published his Collected Poetry (1971). Between 1965 and 1969 Dudek wrote a regular column on books, film and the arts for the Montreal Gazette. This activity together with his reviews, articles and radio talks has remained fundamental to Dudek's perception of the poet's and the critic's role in society. In 1967 he published The First Person in Literature, and in 1974 Dk/Some Letters of Ezra Pound. His Selected Essays and Criticism appeared in 1978 to be followed by Technology & Culture: Six Lectures in 1979. The later poetry, typified by the collection Continuation 1 (1981), harks back to an earlier book, Epigrams (1975), and is an experiment in recording the fragmentary poetic moment. A selection of his poetry entitled Cross-Section: Poems 1940-1980 was published in 1981, and Zembla's Rocks in 1986.

An anthologist of note (Canadian Poems 1850-1952, 1952, with Irving Layton; Poetry of our Time, 1965; The Making of Modern Poetry in Canada, 1967, with M. Gnarowski; and All Kinds of Everything, 1973), and frequent speaker, Dudek influenced the teaching of poetry in Canadian schools and universities. Prior to his retirement he was Greenshields Professor of English. He was a Member of the Order of Canada.