In October, we published new poems by Okla Elliott, an energetic, prolific, young writer and political activist (oh, how I enjoyed retweeting his comments through the election last fall!). And then last night, Allan Cooper emailed me to say that Okla had died suddenly of an apparent heart attack. He was just 39. This happened two nights ago, the night or March 19. In my dealings with Okla, I knew he was generous, helpful, probably overworked. He had a lot of irons in the fire from fiction, translation, essays, and poetry to publishing (new and neglected writers). He wrote Bernie Sanders: The Essential Guide, which came out last year. I think it took a good couple of years to finally get those poems. But I liked him. I thought this relationship would burgeon into a friendship as so many other have since I’ve been publishing the magazine.
But it was not to be. A short and busy life.
There is a nice obituary with many comments at Stanford’s Book Haven blog.
And here is one of the poems we published, which seems, now, prescient.
Antinomies and Intensities
Askew, askew, I float. The darkling waters
turn my helpless boat round.
The rippling dots of starlight—dead stars, dead.
The rippling of starlight on the water
and overhead. Silently, I merge the world
with my mind. Silently, it becomes one world.
I wobble myself upright and balance.
The body’s warm intensities, its needs,
its abilities. All of this, turning slowly
on the night’s river.
I watch the weather gather
yellow doom into its belly.
The water will wash runnels through the sand.
It will wash away the self-monuments of man.
Say your prayers. The sky won’t listen.
Say them anyway.
The sound of human voice in the storm,
this might be of more value than we can guess.
There is a vowel in the wind. A voiceless vowel.
There is joy in the void. A hopeless joy.
I will ride the waters over the cliff
into the abyss.
I will embrace this apocalypse—
DG, I didn’t know him but this is sad, sad indeed. We should all mourn because we have lost not only his work yet to come, but also the opportunity for us to be changed by his work.
Wow, a beautiful poem. Tragic to lose a gifted poet so young.
This is just awful.
I’m so sorry to hear this, Doug. I love the poem you’ve put up as a reminder of his talent, and I understand what you mean about the sweet anticipation of friendship, now lost.
God, that lovely poem, good to begin with, really does seem prescient. When Dylan Thomas died at Okla’s age in 1953, it seemed to me, a teenager at the time, almost the death of a middle-aged man. Now, to die at 39, especially one so talented, almost seems like the striking down of a boy. Very, very sad.