For decades Olivia Harrison has been very open in acknowledging her love for her late husband and Beatles legend, the late George Harrison. She’s written a biography about George, co-produced a documentary with Martin Scorsese about George and even collected a Grammy for her work producing the documentary in George’s name after his 2001 death from lunch cancer. But this year, on the 20th anniversary year of George Harrison’s death, Olivia Harrison decided to do something a little different: produce a book of poetry,
Came the Lightening: 20 Poems for George takes the reader through the story of the couple’s love, their union, their tensions and finally, their resolution in the acceptance of death.
“I’m also writing in the spirit of admiration,” writes Scorsese in the intro. “How could Olivia give form to her memories of her life shared with her beloved George Harrison, now gone 20 years? She might have done an oral history or a memoir. Instead she composed a work of poetic autobiography.”
The first poem, “Another Spring,” was written in December 2001 and captures the pain and hopelessness, and love, of seeing a life partner transition. In this, she writes, she wish they had another spring. But they didn’t. George Harrison died at age 58 in November 2001. The poem is quiet, yet full. Benedict Cumberbatch read “Another Spring” on BBC Radio 3’s Petroc’s classical rise and shine podcast. Cumberbatch’s voice comes in at the 1:23:53 mark. Other poems in the collection seem to recall moments of songwriting genius, hanging out with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, holidays with other celebrities and her feelings of being a Mexican-American – who once called California home – adapting to a British way of life.
Between poems are 33 color illustrations of nature and never-before-scene images of the famous couple. Most are in black and white. Given the rhyming patterns of many of the poems, one might think they are in fact songs that will one day be set to music. And perhaps they are. But all songs are also poetry. She also includes a piece that speaks to her Mexican heritage.
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In fall there is a lot to unpack here for Beatles fans and for Harrison fans alike, and it is admirable that this isn’t an Instagram-good-vibes-only type of poetic read. Some of the content talks of realities of married life, of romance, arguments and anger, but also of reconciliation and that sweet/sad moment when you realize the true value of what you have inherited from a loved one.
The couple’s son, Dhani Harrison, is also encouraged by the project, tweeting that he is proud of his mom. Published by Genesis Publishers, the deeply personal, 104-page collection offers a glimpse into the world of celebrity couple that is rarely seen in these days.