Louis Dudek Essay - Dudek, Louis (Vol. 19)

Dudek, Louis (Vol. 19)


Dudek, Louis 1918–

Dudek, a Canadian poet, essayist, and editor, was an important contributor to the modern poetry movement in Canada during the 1940s. Pound's influence is felt throughout Dudek's work, especially in his long poem Atlantis, in which he explicates the present through the past. Dudek was the founding editor of Delta magazine. (See also CLC, Vol. 11, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 45-48.)

E. K. Brown

In East of the City the themes are almost the same as those that preoccupied [Mr. Louis Dudek in Unit of Five]. Mr. Dudek is sensitive to the surfaces of things and of persons, and many of his best passages are the records of his simple responses to what he sees and hears. He is also concerned with the social system, and bent upon its reconstruction: he often bursts into indictments of injustice and calls for summary action. The two main levels of his poetry—the sensual and the intellectual—remain separate, and there is little reciprocal enrichment. Perhaps what one misses most is … the distinctive power over words, the individual word, and the arrangement of words in broad units. When this power is lacking a poem may yet move, it is true, but it is scarcely poetically moving, for what it has to deliver is not enhanced by the poetic medium. (p. 251)

E. K. Brown, "Letters in Canada: 1946," in University of Toronto Quarterly (reprinted by permission of University of Toronto Press), Vol. XVI, No. 3, April, 1947, pp. 246-340.∗

Northrop Frye

[Twenty-four Poems] evidently is a sequence of impressions, one for each hour of the day: at any rate the first poem is called "Dawn" and the twelfth "Noon." They are strongly pictorial in mood, full of colour, and at times are merely decorative pattern. One continually thinks of paintings: so, rather unfortunately, does Mr. Dudek himself, as it seems to me that an over-explicit reference to Klee injures an otherwise fine sonnet. There is nothing startlingly good in the sequence, yet one is always just on the point of calling him facile and being brought up short…. (pp. 19-20)

[The Searching Image], on the whole, contains more serious poetry, some of it, though disappointingly little, on a level with the best of his earlier work in Unit of Five and East of the City. "Theme with Variations" is a series of vivid sketches of sunrise in a city, in a long swinging oracular rhythm, and there is a delicately elaborated conceit in the opening poem, "The Bee of Words." His favourite theme is the affinity between the creative powers of the mind and the vital energy that produces beautiful things in nature…. (p. 20)

He has more room to operate in Cerberus …, a collection of the work of three poets, Dudek, Irving Layton, and Raymond Souster…. In deference to his colleagues, Mr. Dudek endeavours to recapture some of his earlier feeling for social problems, but it is clear from his...

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Northrop Frye

Louis Dudek's Europe … is diary poetry: a sequence of ninety-nine short pieces recounting impressions of a trip to Europe, from England through France, Spain, Italy, and Greece, and ending with the discovery that what Europe, a shattered and demoralized civilization, really reveals to the North American is the virtues of his own culture. The century of meditation is a fatal idea for a facile poet, and although at his best Mr. Dudek escapes being merely facile, I find large stretches of the book unrewarding. In the first place, the influence of Pound is oppressive. Pound is everywhere: the rub-a-dub three- and four-accent line, the trick of snapped-up quotations and allusions, the harangues against usury, the toboggan-slide theory of the decline of Europe after the Middle Ages, and so on. In the second place, the conversational style brings the ideas into sharp relief, and the ideas are commonplace, prejudice reinforced by superficial tourism. To be told in rather pedestrian verse that the English are constrained by standards of what is and is not done hardly adds to the variety of one's poetic experience. Things improve however towards the end, where the rhythm firms up and begins to swing and lilt a bit, and where firsthand observation replaces second-hand theorizing. (pp. 53-4)

Northrop Frye, in his extracts from his "Letters in Canada," in University of Toronto Quarterly (reprinted by permission of University of Toronto Press), Vol. XXV, No. 3, April, 1956 (and reprinted in his The Bush Garden: Essays on the Canadian Imagination, Anansi, 1971, pp. 44-57).∗

Saturday Night

Since Mr. Dudek professes himself to be inured to misunderstanding and lack of appreciation from the Canadian public, it will come as no surprise to him to hear that a reviewer finds little resemblance to true satire in [Laughing Stalks, a] new book of satirical verses which resemble rather the rude noises and nose-thumbing gestures of a small boy bent on making himself objectionable to his disenchanted audience.

Mr. Dudek is sometimes betrayed by his own skill at parody. Not in the second volume under review, however. En México is another of the thoughtful, impressionistic, poetic ramblings that best suit his talent. Mexico seems to have been for the poet a traumatic experience which made him deeply conscious of the ironies implicit in historic time and in man's relation to time.

All aspects of Mr. Dudek's poetic personality merge here, as in his poem Europe, to express a universal response. Because it is written with greater mastery and deeper feeling, because it represents a more complete transfiguration of experience, En México is an even better poem. (pp. 34-5)

M.A.H., "Boy and Man," in Saturday Night (copyright © 1958 by Saturday Night; reprinted by permission of the publisher), Vol. 73, No. 23, November 8, 1958, pp. 34-5.

Northrop Frye

Louis Dudek's En México … is a long fragmented poem, less ambitious than Europe, but in my opinion more successful and better unified. It gets away to a slow start: the impact of a new country, like nostalgia, can often be a ready-made substitute for genuine poetic feeling, and, again like nostalgia, may produce only a facile reminder of experience, like a colourful label plastered on a suitcase. The comments about life and death which intervene are not much more rewarding, for Mr. Dudek has little to add to the eternal verities. But he soon picks up his main theme…. Nature is an organic process out of which man evolves, and the process itself is full of unconscious art…. Man's life forms a history, which "Begins from the place we're in," out of which his art evolves. Art is therefore, for man, the key to reality, for "Form is the visible part of being." The whole poem leads up to this recognition of art in the final pages, and the observations on the jungle, the Aztec temples, Christianity with its man of sorrows, the modern class-conscious students of Mexico, the frogs and crabs and snakes and "all the gentle mechanical creatures that we kill" fall into place as integral parts of the total vision. In the middle is the simple human act, the routine work on which all history turns, symbolized by women washing laundry in a stream. In this poem Mr. Dudek has matured his technique of indented lines and parenthetical rhythms, and the...

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Wynne Francis

For [Louis] Dudek, as for [Matthew] Arnold, poetry is a serious search for moral truth…. Arnold could say "For poetry the idea is everything … poetry attaches its emotion to the idea; the 'idea' is the fact." And Dudek after him, "… it is what you say with language that really matters." (pp. 5-6)

The poet, for Dudek, must constantly take account of life as it is being lived. He must use words only to say honestly and simply what he thinks and feels about that life, to extract its essential meaning. His function is not to make decorative verses, forge new metaphors or illustrate myths, but rather to record in words the results of his personal explorations in the various dimensions of actuality...

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W. J. Keith

Until recently, Dudek's contribution to the Canadian literary scene has seemed a little blurred. Because his poetry wasn't represented in Milton Wilson's influential Poets of Mid-Century anthology, his work is less familiar to paperback-reading students of Canadian poetry than it otherwise might have been. And his critical writing has up to now been scattered in newspapers, journals and little magazines. But thanks to the appearance of his Collected Poetry in 1971 and the recent publication of these critical gatherings, we are now in a position to see his work as something approaching a totality. And a very impressive achievement it proves to be.

Perhaps his most significant...

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