Denise Levertov wrote "Olga Poems" between May and August 1964. The series of vignettes memorialized her sister, Olga Levertoff, who had died that year, at the age of fifty. I do not know how Olga died, but clearly she was desperately unhappy, and she made those around her desperately unhappy as well. She was nine years older than Denise, a powerful and demanding presence, yet also a partner, a fellow traveler.
I finished copying out "Olga Poems" yesterday morning. It had taken me weeks to finish this project, though the series is only eight pages long. Partly I was distracted by work and travel, but partly I needed to advance incrementally through these pieces. The elegy weighed heavily on my thoughts: the sadness, the loss, the details of childhood. But the stylistic shifts also drew me into slowness . . . short lines shifting to long lines; wild indentations shifting to formal stanzas. Something about the structure required my patience. I could not simply rush into these poems and absorb them.
And also, I have been aware of a synchronicity. Olga died in 1964 at the age of fifty. I was born in 1964. One week from today I will turn fifty. It is hard for me to avoid suspecting that a ghost has pressed me to read these poems, and to take them seriously as a message.
I don't know what the message is. I don't know who the ghost is. I don't think this matters.