Ava C. Cipri: The Container and the Contents

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Ava C. Cipri is a poetry editor for The Deaf Poets Society: An Online Journal of Disability Literature & Art She holds an MFA from Syracuse University, where she served on the staff of Salt Hill. Ava’s poetry and nonfiction appears or is forthcoming in Cimarron, decomP, Drunken Boat, Literary Orphans, Rust + Moth, and WHR, among others. She resides at: www.avaccipri.com

Emily Densmore speaks with Ava below.

What was your inspiration/the story behind “Hana Kohnonvsk, (1943-perished) Terezin, “Landscape” age 7”?

I saw Hana’s painting in-person. I bore witness to the camp and, not surprisingly was drawn to the children’s art. The gravity of the camp spoke to me through her art, and I wanted to capture it. This child became the face for me, and I began to imagine what Hana, and so many others might have gone through. I went to the Terezín ghetto alone, in my mid-twenties while studying at Prague’s Charles University for a summer. During World War II, Terezín, served as a way station for Bohemian and Moravian Jews, for families and children, torn from their homes before their deportation to the concentration and death camps in the east.

I noticed you also write non-fiction. How does your process differ between writing poetry and non-fiction? Which do you prefer more?  

Sometimes I go into a work knowing its form is poetry or non-fiction, but most often that is not the case. Usually, everything comes out prose and I pare it back either into a poetic form (from free verse to prose poems), or I discover it is meant to be micro/flash non-fiction. The content dictates the form; I do not have a preference. I am simply providing it with the best container; both are mutually mysterious and satisfying.

What are you opinions of non-fiction as an emerging genre?  

Honestly, I do not think of it as an emerging genre because I have been studying and writing in this multi-faceted form for so long. I was writing creative non-fiction, before I even knew what it was. 

I found that the images in which you ground your poems transcend cliché categories. I particularly appreciated the way you deal with grief in “Passage”. How do you create these images? Are they pulled from specific experiences?  

Thank you! Yes, they are from experiences I’ve had. In terms of grief, re-experiencing it by watching how the forgotten wick of the candle burns out . . . and how it lingers with our senses. Also, contemplating the physicality of the often intangible, like grief; its weight in the form of objects fascinates me.

I noticed that the themes in your poetry often center around grief/suffering/loss. Are these common themes in your writing? Or were they purely chosen for this set of poetry?  

Yes, these are reoccurring themes in my poetry. We moved around a great deal when I was a child (a result of geographical cures), so there was the loss of many people, places, and things. I always carried the desire to return to my childhood home (a log cabin) in Vermont, where my dog was buried. I witnessed the passing of many relatives at a very young age; the most prominent was my Uncle Ray who lived next store dying of cancer. Daily, I was in his house playing with my three cousins; cousins that I claimed as my sisters. 

I noticed that you are a poetry editor for the Deaf Poets Society. Can you speak to the importance of creating spaces for writers of underrepresented communities?  

In our current political climate, it is more important than ever to participate in the conversation. The Deaf Poets Society is a platform to expand narratives about the experience of disability that complicate or altogether undo the dominant and typically marginalizing rhetoric about disability. It is an online journal that is staffed by disabled individuals, seeking work by disabled writers and artists. Aside from disability, the premise of our journal is one to uplift underrepresented communities that are further marginalized by race, class, gender, and sexual identity/orientation.

Do you have a particular interest in Holocaust history? Have you done further writing on this subject?

I have a strong interest in Holocaust history, and I teach a literature course that focuses on how children survive in the face of conflict, particularly war. We study a number of young adult books, films, and critical theories on how much is achieved by the unconscious harnessing the power of imagination. It is a topic I will continue to teach, study, and write on; the utility of imagination as a mechanism to survive. 

Do you have any projects that you’re currently working on?  

In addition to finishing my first full-length poetry collection, I’m circulating two chapbooks, and assembling a third. Then, there is some experimentation happening with an unruly hybrid work demanding all my attention.

Enjoy Ava reading some of her works here.