Lauding Louis

Eternal Conversations: Remembering Louis Dudek: A Tribute Anthology

By Charlotte Hussey

A review of Eternal Conversations: Remembering Louis Dudek: A Tribute Anthology by Edited By Aileen Collins Et Al

Published on April 1, 2004

Eternal Conversations: Remembering Louis Dudek: A Tribute Anthology
Edited By Aileen Collins Et Al

DC Books
$23.95
paper
288pp
0-919688-75-6

Beauty is making a comeback. Denis Donoghue’s Speaking of Beauty and Elaine Scarry’s On Beauty and Being Just are two recent cases pointing to the resurrection of beauty from its dubious status. And, if our fascination with the ugly, grotesque, and obscene continues to wane, the words of modernist poet Louis Dudek may take on new meaning:

 

What you want is not luck,
nature’s jackpot,
but an intellectual seal of order
and approval.
But pleasure overflows, and love
overflows, and beauty overflows.

 

Reading through this tribute to the poet who died in 2001 at age 83, I was struck by how Dudek’s belief in the aesthetics of beauty influenced not only his poetry, but also his life, and his relationships with a number of younger Canadian poets whose praise-poems, academic papers, and vivid autobiographical vignettes serve to eulogize him in this text.

Another word for beautiful is fair, meaning both comely and just. The symmetry, proportion, and balance inherent in a beautiful object help to concretize a sense of what is just. In an abridgement from the Contemporary Authors Autobiography series, included at the back of Eternal Conversations, Dudek refers to the “timeless beauty” of great poetry, a quality he spent his life considering. This pursuit made him a just critic. As Ronald Sutherland writes, “He was critical. In fact, Louis was the most […]fair critic I have known.”

Balance, another characteristic of the beautiful, typified Dudek’s bifurcated life. The tenured McGill professor was also a successful poet, author of some twenty books and a member of the Order of Canada. Dudek also founded Contact, Delta Canada, and then DC Books, small presses that first published many of the writers in this anthology, such as Michael Gnarowski, Raymond Filip, Ken Norris, Steve Luxton, Laurence Hutchman, Stephen Morrissey, George Ellenbogen, Ronald Sutherland, Lionel Kearns, and John Asfour.

Eternal Conversations is an apt title for this tribute to a man who always made time for others. Michael Gnarowski remembers Dudek as “a remarkable poet and friend” whose “noble” lines still reassured him:

 

Beauty is ordered in nature
as the wind and the sea
shape each other for pleasure; as the just
know, who learn of happiness
from the reports of their own actions.

 

Collett Tracey calls Dudek a “Quiet Hero.” She first met him in the cafeteria at Concordia University where he went (after he retired) because he missed being around students. Mohamud Siad Togane, self-described as “an uppity Somali Arab nigger wog refugee immigrant,” writes that Dudek “had nothing to gain from helping me,” but did so “because Louis was a good man.” Raymond Filip calls Dudek, “The Great Encourager,” who brought “sandwiches and abstractions” to the budding poet’s icy Verdun flat.

Often they would all meet at an Alexis Nihon snack bar, or at Ben’s Delicatessen, where Dudek was most himself. He would vigorously debate “who were the most beautiful and truthful poets of Quebec?” or discuss his falling out with Irving Layton who, as Ken Norris writes, was Dudek’s “Great Friend, and great enemy.”

Dudek’s quarrel with Marshall McLuhan also fired many a symposia at Ben’s. Tremblay’s scholarly essay discusses Dudek’s disappointment with McLuhan, who no longer differentiated between the traditional arts and pop culture.

Eternal Conversations is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in the life and talents of Louis Dudek, and in the second wave of Canadian modernism and Montreal’s place in it. It also presents a fine study in mentorship in the arts. Plato believed that “fair forms beget fair practices” – Dudek’s appreciation of beauty overflowed into many beautiful friendships. mRb

Charlotte Hussey has published Rue Sainte Famille and a chapbook, The Head Will Continue to Sing, and teaches academic and creative writing at McGill University.

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