H-O-L-L-Y N-A-G-Y / O-L-G-A D-A-V-I-D-S-O-N
I believe I first met Olga Davidson, whom I have always known as Holly, in the Currier House Dining Hall at Harvard in the Fall of 1986. As undergraduates in the late 1980s, my roommates and I suffered (as we saw it) the ignominious fate of being “quadded” (shipped up Concord Avenue, to the old Radcliffe Quad, to live): little did we know that therein lay various forms of delight and edification, particularly in the form of Holly Nagy, along with House Co-Master Greg Nagy. I entered Currier House just as she and Greg became co-masters (as they were then called), and thus began a long friendship, and the beginning of my encounters with Persian epic, not to mention Andy Warhol’s films. There Holly sat in the dining hall among us lesser mortals, sharing her warmth, energy, and intellectual engagement with the entire undergraduate community; she was also a notable dynamo with House Tutors and Fellows, leading programming, movie nights, special talks, and dramatic spectacles including Peter Pan and Amahl and the Night Visitors (starring Laszlo). Holly’s vibrance, humor, and curiosity colored all our experience; she seamlessly blended intellectual and social life and modeled this for us, and she created a community infused by her scholarly dynamism and abiding spirit of hospitality. From her I first learned about the great Persian epic The Shāhnāma and about the poet Ferdowsi; with her I have discussed notional Indo-European peoples in their huts, Queen Anne-style furniture, whippets, poppers, and the aforementioned Warhol. And let me not forget the many hours devoted to watching Pee-Wee’s Playhouse with Holly, and sometimes Toni. Holly is deeply erudite, profoundly comparative, utterly modern, and a formidable scholar of classical Persian poetry, comparative poetics, and the Muslim world. She is also a visionary and a mensch, as her work with the Ilex Foundation attests—not to mention her contributions to the Hellenic Center. She is, moreover, an excellent a capella singer and a badass at aerobics, as anyone who lived at Currier House can attest. She, with Greg, made Currier the “great good place” Harvard wishes to be. In recent decades, the chance to see her in Cambridge or D.C., to read her ongoing work in comparative poetics, and to discuss all manner of things from politics to gastronomy, has been a tonic and an inspiration. So in honor of Olga Davidson, aka Holly Nagy: these mesostics.
MESOSTICS in honor of OLGA DAVIDSON aka HOLLY NAGY
(after John Cage’s Mesostics for Merce)
drawing on life, friendship, her Poet and Hero in the Persian Book of Kings and Comparative Literature and Classical Persian Poetics
Hail hOlly criticaL scholarLy acuitY * soHrab & rOstam saLute oLga aka hollY * New hAmpshire Greets hollY * iraN hAils a Great allY * herOine iLex foundation Grace imAgination * beacoNhill wAshington DC new enGland Yes * scHolar extraOrdinaire Liberates mentaL facultY * sHāhnāma herO musicaL eLevate divinitY * persiaN shāhnāmA kinG's glorY * sHāhnāma ferdOwsi aLbert Lord poetrY * milmaN pArry Go mYth go * iraN persiA Glorious esfandiYar * House master awesOme conviviaL stimuLating joY * toNi lAszlo greG hollY * Humorous cOmedienne Ludic eLegant hollY * Holly cOmmands: Let peopLe enjoY! * stuDy persiAn aVestan arabIc Describe poeticS boOk of kiNgs * Hilarious wOman ilLustrious schoLar hollY * Hospitable sOciable enLightening brilLiant luminarY *