Karen Rigby’s Chinoiserie is an ethereal collection that keeps you mesmerized until the very end. Simultaneously enthralling and foreboding, Rigby’s prose is delicate and alluring. Poems such as “Dear Reader” and “The Story of Adam and Eve” appear light as gossamer, but their edges are sharp and allude to an imminent danger.
“Dear Reader” plunges you into a world that is both real and surreal:
It led me closer to the firs
where the dead wait for an answer.
All night the mink appeared
and disappeared. The demon wept.
Bodies lined up like blonde guitars
without their necks. Faces I loved thorned
in the trees. A tanager shone
like a pitcher of blood.
These are haunting fairy tales made real through vivid imagery and exquisite language. Readers are transported to an exotic yet familiar world in which Rigby works her magic. “Red Dress” and “The Lover” are seductive, pulling the reader into a dark embrace, while “Nightingale and Firebird” conjures mystical visions of courtesans, ghosts, and a music box.
Rigby plays with structure and perception in order to create poems that invoke a reader’s imagination. She constructs entire realms through striking images, opting for a quiet tone rather than something more boisterous. Chinoiserie is a work of art that consciously avoids clichéd images and prosaic scenarios. Rigby references everything from Bernardo Bertolucci’s imaginative film The Dreamers, to the iconic Leonardo da Vinci, to the revered modernist painter Georgia O’Keefe.
In “Cebolla Church,” Rigby writes:
The desert is a lion-colored seam.
Not a finger of dust lines sills--
not a spine or lizard scale.
It could be any thumb-shaped blur
against the window pane:
Rigby’s references to art, in all its varied forms, raise her poetry to a splendid level. She paints with words, drawing upon a vast array of mediums to keep her readers spellbound. Not unlike high art, Rigby’s work does not appeal to everyone. Her poems require an intellectual commitment from the reader, but she delivers everything she promises within her prose. Chinoiserie reads like a half-remembered dream retold in striking images and svelte lines that linger on the tongue. It’s a mysterious lullaby filled with evocative details that could easily become nightmareish in clumsier hands. But Rigby spins a web of enticing, interconnecting words that continually lure you back for more.
-- Rebecca Ligon
Rebecca Ligon is the recipient of the 2012 Zora Ledinko endowed memorial fellowship in poetry. She is an undergraduate English student at The University of Akron, and has a poem forthcoming in Catfish Creek.