Chinoiserie

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

Winner of the 2011 Sawtooth Poetry Prize, and named by The Volta as one of the best books of 2012 in its Friday Feature, 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.

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…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. 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

“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