Monday, November 9, 2009

Review of David Rigsbee's "Two Estates"

Review (First Published in Wild Goose Poetry Review)
Two Estates, Poetry by David Rigsbee
Cherry Grove, 2009
ISBN: 9781934999547

I did a little research before writing this review of David Rigsbee’s new collection of poetry, Two Estates (Cherry Grove, 2009), and what I found is that everyone seems to write about these poems as if they are all one poem, as if what is to be said of one poem is the same as what there is to say of another. Having survived a rough childhood through kneejerk rebelliousness anytime singularity reared its monolithic head, I immediately wanted to leap to the defense of the individual poems and set them free of this perceived intricate web of sameness. As I began to read, however, I discovered not only would that task be more difficult than I imagined but that pursuing it would be entirely contrary to the nature of the book, that I would, in fact, do a lovely book of poems a great disservice not to join the chorus of voices proclaiming that these poems work so seamlessly together as to create what could be considered a single coherent impression, an impression of timelessness, of natural and mortal detail coalescing into what I can only call beauty.

While these poems are, one might say, “of a piece,” they are interestingly often not “of a time.” In fact they seem intentionally, and meaningfully timeless, which only makes sense, because whether we say the theme of Two Estates is beauty or, I think more accurately, the marvelous beauty of the interdependence of contraries, the poems are about concepts that can only be thought of as eternal. The timelessness of Rigsbee’s world is carefully crafted through the spare language and the very deliberate selection of detail and allusion. In these lines from “Basilica,” for example, one would be hard-pressed to ascertain whether this were written of the 20th century or of some time much older:

In the last terrace one can see
a maid holds a water can over
window boxes too dark to make out
clearly. . . .
But invisibility takes care of surmises
and content joins style on the way
to the basilica, where priest
and people raise eyes to the tiny host,
before resuming their places in the realm
and administration of Lord Pluto

And in these lines from “Under Cancer,” my favorite poem in the collection, Rigsbee creates timeless beauty by locating himself simultaneously within the eternal and contemporary and in relation to the not-so-distant past:

I pause, drawing breath,
and walk to the ledge where my father
the evening greets me in the darkening
branches of a pine.

It is, of course, only natural that Rigsbee would choose a setting as rich both in history and contemporary relevance as Italy to embody this theme of timelessness.

Certainly the greatest joy in reading Rigsbee’s new collection is in experiencing the vivid, sensual, even luscious imagery and the meticulously crafted language, but there are other joys as well. While beauty and timelessness and precision are all admirable pursuits in poetry, I wouldn’t want the reader to think that Two Estates is entirely serious-minded. There are quirky, ironic observations throughout and moments of even greater levity, as in the all-too-familiar (for myself, anyway), satirical, almost cartoonish synecdoche of Bar Gianicolo

A skull with a mustache and wig
carries on a conversation with a stopped
motorist. Two coffees gesture
to each other, while the heads beside them
gibber in English

It should come as no surprise that the final poem of this collection is called “Concert” because that it is indeed what one seems to have experienced in reading the text, a concert of perception in which diverse images, details, thoughts, and feelings are brought into unified harmony. Or perhaps it is simply that Rigsbee sees through the distractions of our daily lives to the harmony that lies within perception and experience and somehow manages to locate and perfectly arrange the only words that could communicate that sense to the rest of us. One gets the feeling that Rigsbee has it just right when he writes about the old contraries as if they could only exist as they do . . . together. In “Concert” for example, he portrays both permanence and transience in an image of swallows who

leave sight altogether
where clouds themselves vanish
and reform, correcting the course
and reach of blue’s ferocious empire

1 comment:

  1. sounds like a really interesting read. i really love a poetry book that is a "book" rather than just a bunch of poems thrown together