Delight and Discretion: On Karen Rigby’s chapbook Savage Machinery, by Brooklyn Copeland


Karen Rigby, Savage Machinery, Finishing Line Press, 2008, http://www.karenrigby.com/id16.html, http://www.finishinglinepress.com

 

Karen Rigby’s second chapbook, “Savage Machinery,” opens with the quiet, unflinching ease of an haute-voyeur. While the subjects of the poems vary from the personal to the historical, they are always sensual. Rigby has a knack for letting her delight shine through while maintaining her role as the discreet recorder of all she observes and envisions.

Stylistically poised and direct, each poem is true to its title; Rigby rarely takes the opportunity to stray between-the-lines. With her boundaries clearly defined, Rigby is thorough in her exploration of a subject. Although there isn’t a bum or rough moment to be found among these poems, Rigby’s tactility and her highly original metaphors ensure there is never a predictable moment. Take, for instance, the poem Photo of an Autoerotic:

After the first shock, you have to admire the body’s hardwood cursive.

 

His face

concealing his member,

his thumb

and forefinger

hooking his head

 

to his own lip like a snake charmer,

something fabled but true:

 

the ones bowing to kiss themselves,

holding the pose for the shutter,

 

the aluminum flash.

Likewise, fine art and food quickly become tedious in the hands of a poet who writes first as a scholar or gourmet— a poet whose intimacy with such topics feels rehearsed and driven by theory. Rigby, meanwhile, writes as if she’s giving space to long-time affinities for Hopper

…His women

 

wear V-necks buttoned to the wrist.

Pace benzene autumns,

slaughterhouse cities.

His women lacquer their lips.

Over and over Hopper

 

brings you back to Bloomfield

or Brooklyn, Desdemona, Champaign.

He brings you back to the farmhouse,
the window’s crosshairs

painted on the floor. In 1931

his women have no face. No hands.
Only the brute-black field

like your mother’s kettle of herbs.

(Edward Hopper’s Women)

and certain earthy vegetables

Let the field bury crystalline skins.

Let the roots drive the green hands skyward

in spite of the earth.

Let me remember the primitive,

underground birth, and the kingdom

of sleepers. Let me consider

 

the lily’s doppelgänger.

(Song for the Onion)

Of course, Rigby’s delight and discretion are two of the strongest threads that tie this collection together. At times, her delight borders on profound ecstasy, and her discretion borders on technical restraint— usually to the best possible effect. From the first two poems, I noticed another, more minor thread that ties subject to subject in the order of almost every poem’s appearance. For instance, burning links the first and second poems, airplanes link the second and third, fingers the fourth and fifth, photos the fifth and sixth, and so on. I mention this small gesture because it impresses me to see a younger poet paying such attention to the flow of her manuscript; in “Savage Machinery,” this attention is indicative of the deliberation that went into creating a very full, accomplished collection out of just sixteen poems.

*

Brooklyn Copeland was born in Indianapolis in 1984. She is co-editor
of Taiga Press (taigapoetry.blogspot.com), which publishes the print journal Taiga, as well as the Tundra Chapbook Series. She blogs at Alsace-Lorraine (brooklyncopeland.blogspot.com).

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