A Raven in The Looking Glass,
a collection of poetry and art by Christiane Cegavske
reviewed by James Tressel
As the back cover states, the works in this collection were “rescued from tattered notebooks and sketchbooks” filled over a twelve year span. Accordingly, there is diary-like intimacy about these pages. Reading A Raven in the Looking Glass is like listening in as a private world is whispered into being.
The richly-colored artwork includes pencil drawings, luminous watercolors and lush oils. A wonder and playfulness infuses these images and makes them at times like illustrations from a children’s book, at others like depictions of mystic revelation. Figures and objects repeat and mutate, reflecting symbols in the accompanying verse. Many of the works include self-portraits of the artist, often as a raven or a woman wearing a raven mask. Those familiar with Cegavske’s film Blood Tea and Red String will recognize its furry, beaked protagonists and moon-faced sunflowers.
In the book’s first chapter, “Into the Woods,” the poems express a yearning for union with the otherworld, an animistic and counter-rational nature – a desire to be woven into its mythology and magical ecology. Beetles, bats and spiders serve as daimonic mediators at the gates of this world. They are symbols of death, but are also the sowers that sow the dead back into mythic life. The narrator of these poems aches for this rebirth. From “Entangled” (p. 6):
Spider catches Beetle entwined within her web
Twist your strands of gossamer around my neck.
Trapped beneath the starlight.
Dancing in the moon.
Breathe life within my veins,
Entangled in your gossamer
Drinking of your dew.
This yearning for reconciliation seems to attain a fulfillment in the poem “Green Dreams” (p.16).
Dripping from my eyes
I see you without sight!
These lines echo a sentiment in William Blake’s “The Everlasting Gospel” (1818)
This life’s dim windows of the soul
Distorts the heavens from pole to pole
And leads you to believe a lie
When you see with, not through, the eye.
True vision comes through the eye, not with it. In “Green Dreams,” there lurks a shadowy lover, and the confrontation with this lover involves an eventual acceptance of “lies.” All fantasy, it would seem, is based upon “lies,” until one has come close enough to one’s imagination to fever-see the truth of certain “lies” and the falseness of other “truths.” “Green Dreams” continues:
Your eyes are my own.
I drink the lies from my own lips.
A thousand eyes glitter up at me,
Spinning black, black, threads at my feet,
Laughing tears of gold,
Singing like stars,
Always watching from the sky,
Spinning webs of moonlight
To catch me as I choke on my sweet lies.
To sting my tongue
And lick away the blood and honey.
I see without sight!
Dripping into dust.
The next chapter of A Raven in the Looking Glass, entitled “Lost,” meditates upon time. Clocks begin to appear in the artwork, and poetic references become numerical, hermetic, and somewhat melancholy. The third chapter, “Head into the Wind” seems to struggle to place fearful things into their proper context. One of the most powerful of Raven in the Looking Glass‘s poems, “Frightened Birds,” resonates in its haiku-like simplicity:
All things that are scary are just frightened birds
Fleeing from their nesting place. (p. 66)
The last two chapters, “Singing in a Mountain Meadow,” and “Desert Dreams,” have a comparatively placid feel, and the poems tend toward nursery rhyme simplicity. “Remembering San Francisco Fog,” however, startles with its reference to a specific geographical place and its prose poem format, but the evocation is typically numinous:
(…) A beetle crawls here and there, chased by a lost ant. The air is moist and salty. The fog drifts in under the clouds, spreading hush, making all mysterious with its damp touch. (…) (p. 97)
The wonderful thing about A Raven in the Looking Glass is that it seems to come from a deeply felt vision that is at once personal and universal, a daydream world of yearning and fancy that reminds one of one’s own lost childhood insights. It’s a dispatch from a house on the edge of the woods where the ravens are invited in to tea.
For information on ordering A Raven in the Looking Glass and other titles by Christiane Cegavske, please visit http://christianecegavske.com/books.html.