Donald Lev and I weren’t close, but we were familiar. To tell the truth, he and his late wife, Enid Dame, always intimidated me. They brought out the shy in me that I’ve worked hard to overcome. It certainly wasn’t because they were unapproachable. I’d seen them at readings around the Hudson Valley for years before I dared to speak to them, complementing them on their work. I probably first saw them at Bob Wright’s version of the Woodstock Poetry Society back in the late ‘90s or early ‘00s, maybe earlier.
They were anything but aloof. However, their work was so finely honed, each word carrying so much meaning, I could not believe that I’d have anything to talk about with writers of this caliber. I was wrong of course, yet, I never quite got over that sense of awe. I would eventually come to greet them both at readings, swallowing my fear. I even participated in a private poetry workshop with Enid, just three of us in the group, and I still have my notes from that. Midrashic themes were her specialty, and Lilith was her favorite character. When she died in 2003, Hudson Valley poetry was devastated by her loss. None, however, more so than Donald.
Donald was accomplished in his own right, yet seemed to hover a bit in Enid’s shadow, or as much of a shadow as poets can muster. His themes were more broad ranging than hers, and his work after her death reflects this especially. He was frequently introduced as one of the “stars” of the underground classic Putney Swope, and late in life, he wrote a series of poems based on the movies he saw at Upstate Films in Rhinebeck, a local art house cinema. He wrote about politics, religion, family, and Enid. He frequently read her work as often as his, keeping it alive for all of us, knowing poetry lives best when spoken aloud.
More recently, he lost the ability to drive and depended upon the kindness of other poets for transportation. He was often assisted up to the mic as our own Elder Statesman. His final illness was relatively brief, punctuated by a short rally in rehab where Donald pined for pen and paper. But in the end, the body was ready, and in truth, the spirit seems to have been ready for much longer. Nevertheless, we will miss that funny, gloomy fellow with the glass of red wine at the end of the bar. As much of a Brooklynite as he was, film “star”, literary hero, and member of a swiftly departing posse of ‘60s Lefties whose wisdom we sorely need about now, he became a part of this Hudson Valley. May his memory be a blessing, and a light.