Savage Machinery by Karen Rigby
(Finishing Line Press, 2008)
Writing for Karen Rigby is a delicate enterprise, a craft that needs time to brew. Her chapbook from the Finishing Line Press, Savage Machinery continues to walk in the footsteps of her first publication, Festival Bone (Adastra Press, 2004): a discreet observing eye that seeks fluid imagery, nuanced yet bold, with surprising twists. Other than the rather experimental “The Story of Adam and Eve,” most of the sixteen poems are of a neat length, between ten to thirty lines. Possessing a nimble word order, they share a sonic vocabulary bank that balances musicality against the demands of words.
Poetry itself is a privileged site of transformations. Rigby packs sixteen poems in a chapbook, all of which seek to transform images to memory, imagination to sensuality. Themes evoked in this little collection include ekphrasis art (Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Design for a Flying Machinery,” Boucicaut Master’s manuscript illumination, paintings by Edward Hopper or Georgia O’Keffe, and a scene from the film, Sunset Boulevard), as well as food (onion, Borscht soup, bread and plums). On the other hand, poems like “Bathing in the Burned House,” “Flyover Country” and “Sleeping on Buses” observe events that are sometimes ordinary and instantaneously recognizable. Their unexpected romps through language suggest that there are countless angles of looking at quotidien life, and that at particular instances, even the seemingly limpid layer of ordinary episodes contains a message:
… Everywhere in this city doorways lit
by argon lights remind
there are rooms behind
the ones you know.
(from “Photo of an Autoerotic”)
The title Savage Machinery derives from a line in “The Story of Adam and Eve,” unsurprisingly also the mantelpiece of this petite collection. The word “savage” has strong connotations, and gives clues about how the poet herself views the post-Eden world. Norma’s lunacy that finally killed Joe (“Norma Desmond Descending the Staircase as Salome”) and a red plane burning like a thorn (“Flyover Country”), for example, are a few references to violence, a violent world in which we today live. Aware of a longing for narrative architecture or meaning, questions that punctuate the poems bear the mysterious twins of both curiosity and interrogation:
Why do we do it, the dumb abandonment?
(from “Design for a Flying Machine”)
How does she manage, the woman on Forbes,
so sure no one stretching for the cord
will stroke her face, a gesture saved for the dying
or women caught in stairwells, that faint
apology for love?
(from “Sleeping on Buses”)
What should he bring to your hunger
if not his own wrist?
There is still room, though, to expand in these concise poems. However, Rigby decides upon restraint, technically and contextually. It is difficult to write on ekphrasis art, for instance, without falling into the trap of pure description. Likewise, it is appealing to be emotionally engaged or charged with what one writes, especially fragments of social reality. Perhaps Rigby has chosen a different path: a third eye at a distance prickling intimate details.
Fiona Sze-Lorrain writes poetry in both English and French under the nom de plume, Greta Aart. She recently edited Silhouette/Shadow:The Cinematic Art of Gao Xingjian (Paris: Contours, 2007). Also a musician, she lives in France. (www.fionasze.com)