A Profile of Carol Levin
By Carl Deuker
Sing! That’s what Carol Levin’s mother—blessed with an operatic voice– commanded. “Sing, Daughter, Sing. Sing like me.”
Music was in Carol’s house as she grew up. Music and a mother, but an absent father. Carol would come home from school and lose herself in scarves and blankets, as she twirled about her room, an only child dancing before thousands in her imagination. The love of music was in her blood, but she did not inherit the voice, much to her mother’s disappointment. “Sing, Daughter.”
I lay on the floor
Arms chafed by the rug
Studying the ceiling as C major
Sang down the wall
And along the runnel of my spine. *
A dyslexic child before there was awareness of dyslexia, Carol was that puzzlement in school, the bright girl with the bright eyes who somehow was unable to spell words, the letters jumping about; unable also to organize objects or places, those jumbled in time and space. She married a jazz musician young, driving madly from Los Angeles to the Justice of the Peace in Las Vegas, a marriage that ended predictably leaving her to raise her two children. But there was nothing predictable about what came next. Carol’s 2012 book of poetry, Stunned by the Velocity is set in 1968, a time of political and social upheaval. As Carol puts it: “Everyone of a certain age remembers where they were and what they did in 1968.”
Seismic forces jolted Carol’s life: an unfaithful lover, a kidnapped rival, a renegade “convent” in Greece that in actuality was a prison tenanted by abducted young girls. It sounds like Gothic fiction, but it was all real, with no happy ending, but with death and the threat of death close at hand.
Drab light outside and dim inside press like page
Against a page to create creepy shapes . . .
Damn Dark! Hides behind,
over, and under itself.
1968 ended, though it didn’t resolve. Next came a second marriage and work, but not a rut. No, nothing close to a rut. Carol’s workplaces included a stint a Children’s Hospital, years as a supernumerary for the Seattle Opera, ten years teaching modern dance, involvement with KUOW and as a dj at KCBS, leading to voice over gigs, and acting classes.
Eventually, Carol’s love of the arts led her to attend an intense summer program for actors at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. Later, acting led her to the heart of Chekhov. Carol found herself partnering with the Russian stage director Leonid Anisimov and his translator Laura Akmolavskya, as a founding member of The Art Theater of Puget Sound, founded to produce Chekhov’s plays.
Carol’s home became the home-away-from-home for a troupe of Russian actors, the rooms and stairs filled with Russian and English and theater. The plays were performed not only at theaters around Puget Sound, but also in private homes and universities. Anisimov was unhappy with the available English translations, so he, his translator, and Carol translated the four major plays to make the English sing like the original, Before dawn Carol frantically typed newly-translated scenes for the actors to rehearse that day. The mad, non-English speaking Russian director, the wild burst of activity, the passion of art.
One performance was staged in front of an audience filled with dramaturges from all over the U.S. at their annual meeting who’d come specifically to see what the sound and the fury had created. Their judgment: Carol’s script had captured for English audiences the essence of Chekhov’s play. Over several years of collaboration, all four of Chekhov plays were performed. The School of Drama at the University of Washington has often used Carol’s scripts. And then the Russians and the Art Theater of Puget Sound were over, though their voices can still be heard in Carol’s poetry.
Black leather chairs swivel
as your voice bursts
into the room where only
the paintings smile back.
Lights are off
we are not at home.
Groggy, after midnight
We receive your gift
From the telephone tape turning
On the machine we
whirl and rewhirl to saturate
our senses, soak in
your sweet sound.
In 2004 Carol completed the rigorous training required to become a certified instructor of the Alexander Technique. She teaches people to experiment with the sequence of their thinking in order gain a reliable strategy and the confidence to be in charge of how they move, safely and efficiently, without working harder than needed, to accomplish exactly what they want to in all their daily activities. It’s a technique that, naturally enough, attracts actors, but that benefits all. And, of course, Carol has continued to write. She has just completed her latest manuscript of poems, tentatively titled, Upend the Outcome.
An incredible life, and no doubt more remains to be done. “Sing, Daughter, sing. Sing like me.”
“Yes, Mother, I’ll sing. But I’ll sing in my own way. I’ll sing in my own voice.”
*All poetry is from the collection Red Rooms and Others. Pecan Grove Press, 2009.
Read Ballard Writers on other Ballard Writers every couple of weeks. If you join our group, you may enter your name on a slip of paper and put it in Bob Dalrymple’s hat. We’ll draw the name of someone for you to profile and someone else to profile you. Who will it be? The surprise is all part of the fun. Today, Carl Deuker profiled Carol Levin