A Living Souvenir

The son of poet Dahlia Ravikovitch discusses everything his mother left him when she died five years ago, from unpublished works to invaluable life lessons

A collection of every single book and poem by Dahlia Ravikovitch, who passed away five years ago, will soon be released. The comprehensive project, edited by Giddon Ticotsky and Uzi Shavit and published by Kibbutz Hameuchad, also includes previously unpublished poems found in the artist's estate.

Ido Kalir, Ravikovitch's son, made her estate available for the purposes of the book, "Dahlia Ravikovitch: The Complete Poems." Many organizations have approached him about acquiring her estate, he relates, but it is something he's not quite ready to part with.

"It's really a living souvenir from my mother," he says. "I see people whose parents die and what is usually left behind? All sorts of family photos. But in this case a variety of thoughts and ideas and stories and poems and descriptions of how she felt are what remain. It's very difficult for me to part with all of this, I would miss it."

On the other hand, he says Ravikovitch was pleased by the possibility that one day he'd be able to sell her estate. "When we heard on TV that Yehuda Amichai's estate had been sold to Yale University for $100,000, my mother was so happy. She sat with tears streaming down her face. 'When I die, you must also sell my estate,' she told me. She loved the idea that somehow she would be able to set me up for life. When I was a teenager, though, I'd made some comment to her about how I planned to place all her poems in the public domain and she told me, 'You're an idiot, don't do it.'"

Kalir says the first to go through his mother's estate was literary researcher Dana Olmert (who is also the daughter of former prime minister Ehud Olmert ). "She basically took the estate and was the first to go through it and map it out," he relates. "Afterward, Giddon Ticotsky went over it again and also reviewed a lot of material from the newspaper archives. He did some very thorough and fine work on this book."

In a column published on the Hasifria Hahadasha Web site, Ticotsky discusses the gap that existed between the mythological and the day-to-day for Ravikovitch. "It is irrelevant whether or not Ravikovitch sewed for herself clothes made out of fire or if others sewed them for her (surely it was a combination of the two ). In any case [she writes], 'There are no clothes on me at all, after all it is me who is on fire' - this is one of the keys to reading Ravikovitch's poems. The most trivial and day-to-day things have the same appearance as the mythological... Back and forth between the two worlds, often ending with a downfall - that is the tragedy of human existence, and its hope."

Until she died, Kalir says, he did not realize his mother was a great poet, even though he studied her poems in school, like many other Israelis.

"I learned them in high school, which was very amusing," he recalls. "In the end, it turned out that the shoemaker's children walk around with no shoes and I didn't even take the matriculation exam in literature. This was during the tenure of Amnon Rubinstein, who set up the matriculation lottery system, by which a lottery determined which matriculation exams 12th-grade students would be required to take that year. Every year it somehow turned out that there was no matriculation exam in literature or Bible, and high school students would parade Rubinstein around on their shoulders as if he'd just gotten married. So when I was a student, they also canceled the matriculation exam in literature."

'A poet from birth'

Kalir says he does not know exactly when he grasped that his mother was a poet. "It was all natural to me. As far as I was concerned, she was my mother and she spoke in a very unique language - she had her own unique phrases and her own special language. At some point I realized that she was a poet, but that was normal for me, nothing unusual," he explains. "When she died, I saw how other people related to her. I also obtained some emotional distance and suddenly I had a chance to recognize her as a poet, too. When I started working on her estate I realized that this was really her life's project, that she was a poet from birth."

Kalir relays a story he heard from one of his mother's childhood friends, who first met Ravikovitch at the age of six, when she arrived on Kibbutz Geva following her father's death.

"Mom went to the school on the kibbutz and they told her they would place her in first grade. As there were not enough children on the kibbutz, they would only open a new class every two years. When she arrived, there was a first grade and a third grade, there was no second grade class, so she decided - and this is very typical of her - that she should be in the third grade," Kalir says. "Her friend told me how she stood there in a red coat, how all the children stood around her and marveled at the girl who had arrived from the big city of Ramat Gan and she shouted, 'I do not yearn for this, and I will decline and I will refuse.' That was my mother: There was the rebelliousness and there was the language."

And there was also Ravikovitch's depression. Kalir says it disturbs him when people discuss his mother's private life and the depression she suffered from. "It really is not anybody's business and it's also not relevant to reading her poetry," he says. But on the other hand, this was something she herself spoke about in interviews.

"True and many, many times she regretted that afterwards," he replies. "My mother was depressed, everyone knew that. One of the side effects of depression is that you're constantly seeking help, someone who will rescue you and you don't find that. You are in a very difficult situation, there is something inside you that is constantly fighting against you, and that limits your movements. It is, after all, a terrible illness.

"I know there are people who, when they are in the midst of depression, still manage to function," he continues. "My mother was unable to function when she was depressed. She would get out of bed, go to the fridge and then go back to bed. She was unwilling to see friends. She would tell me she was not interested in this and did not want to depress her friends. I don't know this for certain, and I never discussed it with her, but I think those interviews perhaps represented a search for some kind of shared fate. But she always regretted it afterwards.

"When she was in a state of depression, it was easier to take advantage of her; she was very vulnerable. There were some newspapers that respected this because they saw they were dealing with a woman in distress, and there were other newspapers that respected this less. And in the cases where they respected this less, it was harder for her."

Protective and proud

Kalir says his mother's last years of life were difficult. "The periods between her bouts of depression got pretty short, primarily in her later years, and reached a point where her moods were neither here nor there. It was a very unpleasant situation for her," he says.

"Old age also troubled her quite a bit and she spoke with me about this. Toward the end, her mood stabilized - but this regular position was not a good one. She told me a few weeks before she died that she felt old age descending upon her. The sad thing about all of this is that she was not the depressed type by nature. She was a happy and lively person, she was very funny and a really good friend; the illness truly destroyed her."

One of the things he regrets most is that she never had a chance to get acquainted with the world online. "During her final months, she really wanted me to bring her a computer and connect her to the Internet. I took my time about it. We always seem to think there is time. I did bring her a computer, but I only set up the Internet connection two days before she died. I'm sure that if she were alive she would be on Facebook and Twitter and every other place. She really enjoyed it. She loved to chat and gossip with her friends. I'm certain she would have really loved all the social networks."

In Kalir's eyes, Ravikovitch was a protective and proud mother. "She was proud of everything I did," he says. "She always told me that I was terribly talented and I was very proud because, after all, this was a mother who is poet saying this to me.

"When I was around 16, I starting wondering about the source of that statement. So one day when she told me that, I asked her 'What am I talented at?' She thought about it, which was already a bad sign, and then said 'You are talented at seeing things the way they are.' I was very upset by that at the time, but today I understand what she meant. Poetry was indeed one of her strengths, but day-to-day life was not. Most of the time when she would talk to me about something, she'd be very worked up and I didn't take it seriously. I would tell her, 'Listen you have to do this and this, and that's it,' and she would calm down. Suddenly she would have this sort of huge smile and say 'Smart boy.'"

In thinking about the ways he and his mother were alike, Kalir says, "For both of us, fantasy and imagination play very powerful roles. Many times she would be very disappointed by the difference between what she imagined she could achieve and what was eventually achieved - the fantasy was much better. In that, I'm a little bit like her. She once said that poets are like divers in Sharm el-Sheikh: They live with a great risk because of their attention to the essence of the words."