Tuesday, September 30, 2014

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.


Maureen said...

Dawn, Levertov's sister died of cancer, totally ravaged. At the time of her death, Levertov hadn't seen her for about 10 years, according to Dana Greene's biography, which I've read and found insightful. Even the sister's children were estranged from their mother.

Dawn Potter said...

Thanks for this background information, Maureen.