Carol Ciavonne

Winner of the Lyric Poetry Award in 2004

ascension in the initial v


A hole, the open mouth. Can't see the back of the throat.
Placed leaves around the root to point the direction:
fathomless. Here in this specific place, but there.
St. Hilda's soul rises like smoke to heaven, from thirteen miles  
     away.
I want to be the one who tells them at the convent,
it was a cloudy day, but I could not be mistaken,
the mist took her shape, she cupped violets to her nose.
Her eyes were full of love and morphine,
antiphonary pigments: crimson robes, the virgin's apple-green 
     face,
indigo mantling hut and manor. Vast.
In that time, we were truly alone. A sparrow
flew in from the blizzard to shelter by the fire, then out again.
Light, heat, a momentary feast; the print of mango-colored
leaves on concrete, a graceful death leeched from them.
line

D. A. Powell on Carol Ciavonne

The open-throated utterance of oracular vision grows from an ekphrastic journey in "ascension in the initial v." The poem takes as its inciting subject an ornately wrought letter in an illuminated manuscript. The manuscript is a translation of the spiritual into words, most probably Latin (volatus?), which are then translated by the illustrator. So the poem—translating the image that the illustrator has created—is in fact a translation thrice removed. What I admire is the lack of exposition; instead the poet has put us into all of the various versions—the spiritual, the scriptural, the visual and the poetic—at once, so that we experience the shock of the real along with all the layers of translation. As if the poem is speaking in tongues. Or, as Stevens would have it, "the poem is the cry of its occasion." The language has that sense of the genuine that can only be rendered through careful balance of the perceived and the described: "the mist took her shape, she cupped violets to her nose." How rare and wonderful to be given an illuminated manuscript in this new way, so that it takes wing (volucris?) as the holy spirit took the form of a dove.

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