restricted access Travelling to Knowledge: An Essay on Louis Dudek's Long Poems (review)
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Reviewed by
Antonio Ruiz Sánchez. Travelling to Knowledge: An Essay on Louis Dudek’s Long Poems Universidad de Córdoba. xi, 204. €22

Surprised by 'the lack of interest Canadians have shown in their Modernist poets,' Spanish scholar Antonio Ruiz Sánchez presents his work on Louis Dudek, in part, as the recuperation of a literary reputation. Ruiz Sánchez, echoing Sam Solecki, suggests that Canadian literary scholarship has canonized contemporary writers and theorists to the relative neglect of some of the nation's mid-century cultural architects. Ruiz Sánchez reminds readers of the established success of the (narrative) long poem in the development of the Canadian literary tradition and urges our recognition of Louis Dudek's diverse contributions to that genre, from the bardic modernism of Europe to the increasingly fragmentary thought-experiments of En México and Atlantis, to the poetically risky 'open-serial form' of the Continuation books.

Travelling to Knowledge charts a lyric progress over the course of Dudek's long poems. The title reflects Dudek's use of the travelogue structure to impart narrative and symbolic coherence to Europe, En México, and Atlantis, and his gradual abandonment of that structure, particularly in the writing of Continuation. With the diminished narrativity of Dudek's later works, Ruiz Sánchez argues, the public voice of the poet cedes to the private one, liberating some of the career-long concerns that had hitherto been subsumed in the scenes, symbols, and contexts of travel. One of Dudek's most strenuous poetic ideals was that the poet be a thinker in verse, reclaiming from prose its delight in philosophy. For Ruiz Sánchez, this ideal gains in effectiveness the less the poet performs as a 'guide of mankind' (a role he tends to assume via the itinerary of his travelogue poems) and the more he finally plumbs his own consciousness in a 'poetics of thinking.' Dudek's last long poem, Continuation, is an artful approximation of the poet's thought, a poem that, according to the poet's design, could not 'stop' from its inception in the late 1970s until Dudek's death in 2001: 'no end while living.' The work attempts to reproduce, in as unmediated a manner as possible, the spontaneity and flux of consciousness itself, thereby becoming a form of undirected voyage. By the end of his career, then, Dudek 'unfold[s] his craving for knowledge without the [End Page 583] limitations of space' by turning his searching energies inward. Although Dudek's didactic tendencies and his model of the poetic thinker seem ostensibly in conflict with lyricism, Ruiz Sánchez illustrates that Dudek's late meditative poems reveal through 'transform[ed] lyric modes' a 'better dramatization of the self.'

Ruiz Sánchez finds a useful and essential focus in Dudek's 'impulse to lucidity.' Travelling to Knowledge provides a fine synthesis of prior criticism of Dudek's work and makes valuable use of archival materials in order to show the compositional strategies of these increasingly process-oriented poems. Nonetheless, some of the very close manuscript analysis that supports Ruiz Sánchez's claims seems too schematic, particularly in the chapter on En México, which loses in force and vividness what it gains in detail. Ruiz Sánchez's use of secondary authority is also full and conscientious, though the relative scarcity of Dudek criticism makes the author's open indebtedness to Frank Davey's Louis Dudek and Raymond Souster (1980) and Brian Trehearne's The Montreal Forties (1999) the more pronounced; rhetorically, the author might do more to subsume these and other works within his own argument. And, to add a minor quibble, a number of typographical errors and instances of misquotation are perceptible in the work even on a first reading.

In sum, though, it is a pleasure to read this knowledgeable study of Dudek's long poems. Ruiz Sánchez is nearly alone in his handling of the later Continuation books (including Continuation II and the published fragments of 'Continuation III' that are contained in The Caged Tiger and The Surface of Time). He argues importantly for the significance of these poems to Dudek's sustained effort...


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