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"Conclave" by Carolyn Oliver, Read by the Poet

Updated: Apr 5




“Conclave” by Carolyn Oliver, Read by the Poet



In this spare poem, Oliver shows how the ordinary moment—robins observed “on a high bow”—can emit for us a sacred aura. By “us,” I mean we who observe and house the world’s beauty in our chests, or in the preverbal reliquaries in our minds, as sacred objects. And by “us,” I also mean readers of poems such as this one, in which the concrete and ordinary are rendered for us with the almost ineffable glow of the sacred, which we simply call beauty. We know beauty viscerally after seeing and hearing it assembled: “They gorge, then rest, gorge again, / forget to sing. On a high bough, // draped like a dropped robe”. What I like most about this piece is how the final image, “each bone a web of hollows,” becomes a spatial frame for the whole scene of robins feeding in their “leaflorn maple” with the morning sun blazing through the openings between leaf, limb, bird, and air. 


Marcus Myers 


Carolyn Oliver writes poems, prose, and hybrid forms. She is the author of Inside the Storm I Want to Touch the Tremble(University of Utah Press, 2022; Agha Shahid Ali Prize for Poetry), The Alcestis Machine (Acre Books, forthcoming 2024), and three chapbooks. Her awards include the Goldstein Prize from Michigan Quarterly Review, the E. E. Cummings Prize from the NEPC, the Writer’s Block Prize in Poetry, and the Frank O’Hara Prize from The Worcester Review, where she now serves as editor. She is a 2023-24 Artist in Residence at Mount Auburn Cemetery.

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