A trubute by Stephen Morrissey
Delivered at Paragraphe Books, Montreal, April 23, 2001
Like many of you, I have my Dudek story: one of Louis helping me when I was a young poet; Louis giving encouragement to the young; Louis always nurturing his students and younger poets who entered his orbit, and never being condescending to any of them.
Growing up in Montreal in the 1950s and 1960s, it was Louis Dudek and Irving Layton who were in the newspapers when there was news of poetry, it was their poems that we read in school anthologies, and it was Dudek and Layton whose presence made it possible to us to think that we, too, could be poets.
I studied at McGill University because Dudek taught there—I wanted to be one of his students—and attending his course, "The First Person in Literature", was my greatest experience as a student.
Louis had a marvelous sense of humour. When his Letters with Ezra Pound was published, he took me aside before class and planned a hoax: I would announce to the class that I had discovered that the holograms of Pound's letters in the book were in fact typed on Louis' old typewriter, kept on a top shelf in his office. Then Louis was to confess to the class this literary hoax. But I was too shy to carry out this plan, and the practical joke fizzled out. Of course, we've had other literary hoaxes that Louis was fascinated by and had on which he had lectured: Frederick Philip Grove was "exposed" in Douglas O. Spettigue's FPG, The European Years (1973), and John Glassco's Memoirs of Montparnasse (1970) lost some of its charm when it was revealed that it wasn't quite written the way Glassco said it was.
Like many of you, I, too, went to Louis with my poems and his liking the poems was important to me; I left his office that winter afternoon, after Louis read my poems with approval, with a lightness of step and full of excitement. I knew I was a poet, it was official, Louis Dudek had said he liked my work and that I would "make a name for myself," and I could relax and do the writing. His approval meant everything. It was the blessing and mentoring of the older poet.
Like many of you, I met Louis for coffee, one time with Lionel Kearns, on January 9th, 1979. I remember that date because while I was having coffee with Louis my son, Jake, was being born about five weeks premature. It was only when I returned home late that January afternoon that I discovered what I had missed. I was suddenly a father and I had spent the afternoon when my son was born with Louis Dudek and Lionel Kearns. I never told Louis this story but years later I shared it with Lionel.
This month I have been rereading Louis' poems. What a magnificent and large body of work he has created over his lifetime. We had greatness among us, not only a great man, but a great poet walked among us. He will be remembered as a colossus, for his extensive body of poetry, his influence on Canadian letters, and his intellectual acumen. In no way is his work dated or old fashioned, it is as alive and pertinent today as it was when it was first published.
The other day I found some notes I wrote at the back of my copy of Atlantis, notes written back in 1975 when I first read this book-length poem. Among my notes, I wrote the following, "Dudek writes of simple things, the emphasis is on love. His is a poetry of life over death."
The emphasis is on love. He wrote his poetry out of love. He helped other poets out of love. He was not filled with the disease of egocentricity.
Copyright © 2007 The author