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by Karen Rigby
Publisher: Ahsahta Press
Publish Date: January 1, 2012
Paperback: 63 pages
To Order: Ahsahta Press
About the book:
"A voyage through cities, art, and objects of a modern world bereft…"
Winner of the 2011 Sawtooth Poetry Prize, Chinoiserie travels through centuries in poems that
carve wonder from ruin, from an illuminated manuscript to New York on the eve of disaster, the
Emperor’s nightingale to neon aquariums. A sensory flight, intricate in its vision, Ecclesiastic
in its hunger, and brutal in its portrayal of a solitude that “could surrender / to the hammer
or the flame,” this book of curiosities draws inspiration from 15th century masters, Japanese
animation, mid-century films, Marguerite Duras, and other sources. Inspired by an art created
miles from its origins to become its own translation of landscape, texture, and pattern,
Chinoiserie disrupts boundaries between tribute and theft, reinvention and repetition. It
evokes the fanciful as well as a darker potentiality, seeking a language “of pearl and roaring.”
In his judge’s citation, Paul Hoover writes, “As Randall Jarrell famously noted in a review of
William Carlos Williams, poetry’s first and most lasting pleasure lies in the act of seeing.
Karen Rigby sees with feeling the magic of things shaped by language…But here also are the
musical cadence, subject range, and ceremonial precision of true poetry. Such words can be
recognized, through two thick walls, for the subtlety of their murmur: ‘Of creamware, only
stacked and brittle confusion. / We bargain daylight out of black bread.’ This is, quite simply,
a gorgeous and powerful book.”
"Sumptuous yet restrained, Chinoiserie has the
beauty and tensile strength of spider silk.
Karen Rigby's deeply imagined poems shimmer with
reticence: an oddly seductive privacy that continues
to unfold with each reading. Each line ignites subtle
explosions of perception; each gesture is exquisite
and mysterious, invested with the ineluctable reserves
of lyric. Poems this nuanced and strong, wild and grave,
seem to be written with a feather and a chisel. They are
that delicate, that indelible."
"In Karen Rigby's poems, ideas and things coexist
seamlessly. Dense, unpredictable images and
beautifully unlikely sounds evoke not only a sensory
universe but also a rigorous mind, on which nothing,
from art or life, is lost. The eye that looks down
in 'Bathing in the Burned House,' the 'I' that sneaks
up in 'Black Roses,' the wildly associative eater of
'Borscht' - all make the ground shift beneath the
reader's feet. Chinoiserie is a nourishing book, to be
savored slowly." ~Adrienne Su
"Karen Rigby sees with feeling the magic of things
shaped by language...But here also are the musical
cadence, subject range, and ceremonial precision of
true poetry. Such words can be recognized, through
two thick walls, for the subtlety of their murmur:
'Of creamware, only stacked and brittle confusion.
/ We bargain daylight out of black bread.' This is,
quite simply, a gorgeous and powerful book."
~Paul Hoover, (Judge of the 2011 Sawtooth Poetry Prize)
About the Author: Nightingale & Firebird
Karen Rigby was born in 1979 in Panama City, Panama. She is the author of Chinoiserie (2011 Sawtooth
Poetry Prize, Ahsahta Press, 2012) as well as the chapbooks Savage Machinery and Festival Bone. Awarded
fellowships and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Vermont Studio Center, and the
Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, she has been published in venues including Poetry Daily, Washington
Square, Meridian, Field, Black Warrior Review, Quarterly West and New England Review. Her poetry is
in Best New Poets 2008, among others.
She is one of the founding editors and webmasters of Cerise Press, an international online journal of
literature, arts, and culture. A member of the National Book Critics Circle, she reviews for BookBrowse
and industry magazines including ForeWord Reviews, Kirkus Reviews, and others. Her work has appeared in
Next American City, Words Without Borders, High Country News and The Writer. She graduated from Carnegie
Mellon University (BA 2001) and the University of Minnesota (MFA 2004). Karen currently writes in Arizona.
From the Book:
by Karen Rigby
As if the song encoded in the wheel could railroad
to the garden, the mechanical grind transformed
the nightingale to music-box, the music to evergreen
vistas. The firebird was another story: inventory
of dust on the wings. Dried blood on the red-gold
coat. One thread about tin substitutes for splendor,
the other a ghost-image for your burdened heart.
Easy to confuse the black chinoiserie with feathers
torn from ashes, twin halves for a childhood fear:
you were never loved. You could surrender
to the hammer or the flame but no one would come.
That which they called wonder was only a greased key
in a courtesan’s palm, and when the bird sang, no one
heard the sound a wing makes when the current breaks.
© Karen Rigby, Chinoiserie (Ahsahta Press, 2012)
To hear Karen read this and other selected poems
2001- 2012, Quill & Parchment
contributions are copyright of the respective authors