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

Karen Rigby, Savage Machinery, Finishing Line Press, 2008,,


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 (, which publishes the print journal Taiga, as well as the Tundra Chapbook Series. She blogs at Alsace-Lorraine (


Dilemma of Navigation by Nicole Cartwright Denison


Melissa Fondakowski


The Sow’s Ear Press, 2002

25 pages


Set against the literal gardening landscape and the figurative feminine forest, Melissa Fondakowski’s 2001 Sow’s Ear Press winning chapbook Impatiens details the longing for independence, the struggle of self-assertion and the fine art of reconciling an innate desire for connections both physical and spiritual.


The collection speaks in evocative language throughout insisting we recognize truth “as those things that happen to someone else” (“Planes That I am in Do Not Crash”). This acknowledgement of the otherness of ourselves and relationship to those both near and far in the geography of our lives serves as a major conceit throughout the work and also allows Fondakowski’s mastery at personalizing allusion to fully awaken senses of the tightroped acceptance and denial of self-identity.


Revealed in varying manners of scientific and theological topography, the course is deftly maneuvered and the title’s irony becomes fully emblematic of the omnipresent dilemma of navigation: the non-existence of the other within reach within the realm, a desire for an awakening of another I, another us:

on her side, she hopes for sleep

as if she’s someone else

love lost like land (“Selfsame”)



I asked about the name. . .

                                               and wondered

how a plant could be impatient (“Windowbox”)



The spiritual precept of a faith in abiding love is also well-traveled terrain throughout the poem such as “Worship”, “Jordan”, “Gethsemane” and “Eve.” In these last two poems the divine’s role is manifested in the speaker’s relationship to the natural and physical worlds, serving as a legend to the map of sexual exploration and actualization, of the declaration of our bodies and our longing as something wholly given as gifts, and curses:

You’re best in seersucker and under me,

the firmament our tarpaulin n the garden (“Gethsemane”)



. . . in the dream hours after we part


I become Adam, alluvial and nascent, waking

under a firmament certain with birds.



I care nothing for save to leave.

This is the malady in Eve.(“Eve”)



A sibling theme throughout the work is exploring the obverse of non-existence, or self-negation: that of an embracing which exists solely in the tangible world, and the aftermath when our tenuous hold on the perceived vanishes. The arc of poems echo the idea in the language of ebb & flow, of  “pulling back” and with wrenching emphasis on distance. With the poems “Windowbox” and “The Fattest Tree, Love” the exploration of distance’s impact on the I’s proximity are explored to detail those memories, thoughts which comprise our deepest senses of connection and belonging:

                        Her work was slow and deliberate;

she would not let me practice:

I could only watch listening

to her recite the planting instructions

as if I was to store them up. . .” (“Windowbox”)




Drawing from such varied inspirations as the ubiquitous yellowed Polaroid to Tomas Transtromer, Fondakowski’s poems enhance the conceit of the quiet that is almost said, almost shared in yearning for the true self’s emergence. Redolent with stylized reference, amid an undercurrent of approach-avoidance-acceptance, Impatiens works as an alchemy of nature and nurture: those environmental and biological factors that converge with eerie prescience precipitating the blooming.




Nicole Cartwright Denison is the author of Recovering the Body (dancing girl press, 2007) and lives on a trout farm in the mountains of western North Carolina. Her work is forthcoming in Blue Fifth Review and WOMB and has appeared in ECTOPLASMIC NECROPOLIS, tattoo highway, Poetry Midwest, Alba, eight-octaves, elimae, The CommonLine Project, reimagining place: ecotone’s blog and others.


The Caedmon Room III

Editor’s Note: Nate Pritts is the author of Sensational Spectacular (BlazeVOX) & the recent chapbook Shrug (MSR Press).  His new book, Honorary Astronaut, will be out from Ghost Road Press in the fall of 2008.  The editor of H_NGM_N, Nate works in advertising.  You can find him online at









Erica Kaufman, Censory Impulse.

Big Game Books



The self is accumulated, constructed by the thoughts & actions of our life as it is lived, & Kaufman is able to present this quotidian reality as anything but thanks to the shockingly clear & unadorned language of the poems in her book Censory Impulse.  Here, the reader confronts a speaker whose consciousness evolves in a traceable way, & in a process that is deeply human:


                        so let’s talk.  about something.

                        deep and wonderful.



You can almost hear the rush of childish enthusiasm in the first sentence, that pure drive for communication, clarified with an equally naïve suggested topic (“something”).  What drives this book far into your head where it can resonate with the weight & essence of its sheer accuracy is its piercing clarity.  All we need to do is talk, just talk, & it will be “deep and wonderful.”


These kinds of insights abound in Censory Impulse, which makes the book more like a reminder than news from the frontline.  I’m more comfortable here than I am in most books, because there is a way in which I become the speaker.  Without an overwhelming “I,” or a syntax aiming more to dazzle than delight, Kaufman is able to create a kind of participatory poetry.  The insights enacted here are mine, too, since they are laid out like math problems with all but the answers chalked in.

The Caedmon Room II–Nate Pritts’ Chapbook Reviews

Editor’s Note: Nate Pritts is the author of Sensational Spectacular (BlazeVOX) & the recent chapbook Shrug (MSR Press).  His new book, Honorary Astronaut, will be out from Ghost Road Press in the fall of 2008.  The editor of H_NGM_N, Nate works in advertising.  You can find him online at


Joseph Bradshaw, The Way Birds Become.

Weather Press.


One of the most focused and fully realized books I’ve read in a long time, Bradshaw’s The Way Birds Become is an aesthetic project that far surpasses the constraints it sets for itself.  Each poem begins with or builds from a line captured from another writer’s poem & the effect of this cacophonous chirping is surprisingly unified; even with these poems “all broken, singing / different songs” the reader gets a sense of one epic movement.  The pleasure here is tied generally to two effects: 1) that of seeing theory/constraint put into practice successfully & 2) that of following the workings of one mind on a single, & constantly blooming, topic.

In practice, each of these poems are full of mysterious aphorisms, hazy folk wisdom from the back of the brain that feels right:

                        If you look out a window from within a bird

                        you’ll be frightened by the idea

                        that it’s an eye […]


That’s mostly how these poems develop, direct statements with syntactic or grammatical clauses added that either clarify or change the underlying ideas.  These poems are almost devoid of ego; though occasionally they seem to reference something particular – some moment recollected or some situational emotion – the stakes here are decidedly processual, in motion, each poem presented as “evidence / of a sounding.”  Even without the development or intimacies of an easily locatable “I” speaker, the poems here are conversational, visionary without all the heady pronouncements & unapproachable exteriors.

Bradshaw ends the poem “E—Hitchcock, The Birds (1963)” with a kind of explanation / apologia for the collection as a whole:

                                                                        […] birds become roads after they’re

                        transformed into and from the weather they once forecasted.

The Way Birds Become exists in the balance of inspiration & impulse, & demonstrates that the surest way inside can be facilitated by forces from the outside.


The Caedmon Room–Nate Pritts’ Chapbook Reviews

Editor’s Note: Nate Pritts is the author of Sensational Spectacular (BlazeVOX) & the recent chapbook Shrug (MSR Press).  His new book, Honorary Astronaut, will be out from Ghost Road Press in the fall of 2008.  The editor of H_NGM_N, Nate works in advertising.  You can find him online at


Maryrose Larkin, inverse.

nine muses books.


Built out of obsessive clarifications & a desperate compulsion to reference, to provide support for, inverse presents the reader with an almost completely effaced speaker whose main concern is the attempt to know & communicate.  Rather than residing in the self & structuring that self around & through the perceptions of a central consciousness, the poem(s) takes as its subject the very logic of knowing.  When we read the phrase “between theories waking life” we’re forced to understand that this work is asking us to integrate our capacities for “logic” & “reason” in the Romantic sense – our abilities to think & feel.

Throughout, the provisional nature of knowledge is what seems to be under the most scrutiny; if the speaker has to go to such great lengths to accurately articulate anything, then is knowledge itself flawed.  Is knowing something helpful or even necessary?

                        The name of this intersection is frost broken up

                        heavy spar reign heavy phrase ravishment

                                                    strands careening

                        let us unfurl instead: weather

                                                   see also river

                        see also    self and the less restricted sense

I’d have a hard time tracing what the speaker is getting at here, in the traditional sense, but if we give up on that, of ever knowing exactly what, then I think we’re closer to the point.  Larkin’s project here seems to be the interrogation of knowledge, creating the sense that we can achieve a larger scale of perception both through intellect & outside of it.  “Come,” the poem tells us:

                        […]                  expound           breath intelligible

                        come shine

                        come abound unfold in  and about go

Cover, Inverse