Olga Sedakova's Poetic Inspiration

Ona Renner-Fahey, Ohio State University

This paper offers an interpretation of Olga Sedakova's notions of poetic inspiration and creation. For Sedakova (b. 1949), the contemplative experience of poetic creation recalls the two Eastern Orthodox practices of the Hesychasts and icon painters. Sedakova has made references to both of these practices in her essays and interviews. The ascetic tradition of Hesychasm uses meditation and prayer to gain a knowledge of God. Sedakova has defined her poetry as being born from the Hesychast notion of silence ("A Rare Independence: An Interview" 1992). Her frequent remarks on icon painting include, for example, proposing a "literary analogue" to icon painting. She has also spoken of the old tradition, whereby icon painters would pray and fast in order to reach a state of divine inspiration ("Conform Not to this Age: An Interview " 2000). By her own admission, she herself has consciously made such an attempt to induce poetic inspiration by fasting.

These parallels serve as a departure point for my discussion of Sedakova's mythology of poetic creation. Textual evidence of poetic inspiration can also be found in Sedakova's highly metapoetic verse. By examining a selection of her poems, I will demonstrate how such varying motifs as the heart, silence, transfiguration, darkness, wind, and weaving all reflect the influence of these Eastern Orthodox practices.

Both icon painting and Hesychasm provide Sedakova with models for entering into an inspired state. Ultimately, it is Sedakova's hope that the reception of her poetry will mimic its inception, i.e. that her readers will be moved to the same deep contemplation she experienced during her creative process.