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CZ.com | Articles | Louis Dudek

Louis Dudek: Canadian Poet
By Carolyn Zonailo

from "XIV"

The city's long
tradition of poets
am klein
john glassco
fr scott
irving layton
louis dudek
leonard cohen

violence or the lack
of violence is something
also to remember

(bombs in mailboxes
kidnapping
political murder)

call this winter city
Leningrad, Petrograd,
St. Petersburg
city of literature
deconstructed

midnight on March 31st
and April begins with 7 inches
of new snow

none of the above
an April Fool's joke

 

This fragment of a poem is an excerpt from my long mytho-political poem "Winter". It was published as a chapbook by Morgaine House of Pointe-Claire, Quebec in 1998. "Winter" is a poem in celebration of the diversity of cultures in the long literary tradition of the city of Montreal. My poem links the winter city of Montreal with the historical and literary city of St. Petersburg. The poem proceeds via metaphorical associations as diverse as Hades, Anna Akhmatova, and Jim Morrison, rather than by literal event. When the chapbook was published, Louis Dudek wrote me a letter. This is what he wrote:

Dear Carolyn,

Your poem "Winter" is powerful and convincing. It shows again that real emotion and a passion for truth can generate a very genuine poetry.

I've meant to write you a word of cheer for several weeks. I was much moved.

Thanks, and congratulations,

                                          Louis Dudek

I first visited Montreal in 1978, for the League of Canadian Poets annual general meeting. F.R. Scott was at that meeting. So was Ken Norris−he and Cathy Ford and myself were the youngest and newest members at the time. I came home with a copy of Michael Harris's recent book, Grace. I was introduced to Artie Gold in his book-filled apartment in the McGill ghetto, and to poets Endre Farkas and Tom Konyves.

I returned to Montreal a couple of years later to perform with jazz musicians Al Neil and Howard Broomfield. It was during a bus and metro strike, so I arrived from the airport just in time to step on stage. I didn't come back to Montreal again until I attended a Writers' Union conference at John Abbott College, in the spring of 1991. Strangely enough, six months later, I moved to Quebec. I only came for a weekend, but I am still living here almost twenty years later. When I relocated to Montreal I had not yet experienced the great difference in climate between the west coast and Quebec. Living through several Montreal winters led me to connect with my Russian Doukhobor ancestry and to write the long poem "Winter".

Within a month of moving here, I met Louis Dudek, in the winter of 1992. It was at the McLennan Library at McGill University, where several poets and poetry enthusiasts had gathered to hear a reading organized by librarian and poet Bruce Whiteman, after which we all retired to the Poet's Corner at Ben's to eat smoked meat and talk poetry. The poetry readings were held in the basement of the library. I happened to take the elevator with Louis to the main floor. As we stood beside the elevator, waiting for the others to join us, Louis Dudek introduced himself to me. He welcomed me, as a fellow poet, to his much loved city of Montreal. He told me, "Growing old is a terrible thing." He was in his early seventies at the time. Louis also told me that he was finished with writing poetry, saying he had just published a book of epigrams, satires, and very short poems (Small Perfect Things, DC Books, 1991).

But it turned out that Louis Dudek was a creative man, and a poet, right up to the end of his life. From the day I met him, he had another ten years of life ahead of him, during which time he would enter another whole decade of poetic flowering. The Surface of Time, Louis' final collection of new poetry, was published by Empyreal Press of Montreal in 2000. He died in March, 2001. I attended a moving, sad, and celebratory funeral. Poets who had been students of Dudek's at McGill gave testimonies and read aloud his poems. Louis Dudek was truly a great poet in a city of poetry.

This short essay first appeared in Eternal Conversations: Remembering Louis Dudek. DC Books, 2003.

 
 
CZ.com | Articles | Louis Dudek
 
 
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