Chinoiserie

Cover: Quemadura
(Ahsahta Press © 2012)
ISBN: 978-1-934103-25-8

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, 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. 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, “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 intricate 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. These are vivid, sensual poems, gorgeous with vibrant hues ‘painted in poison chromatics,’ rich with passion and grace…Poems this nuanced and strong, wild and grave, seem to be written with a feather and a chisel. They are that delicate, that indelible.”

—Alice Fulton


“…meticulous attention to enjambment and white space, combined with her brutal economy of language, make for a cavalcade of knock-out lines that also amount to really satisfying poems.”

—Janaka Stucky
Black Ocean

“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