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The Red Tower: New & Selected Poems Hardcover – October 1, 2010
"From Mink De Ville to Gil Scott Heron, from a brother's suicide to the tragedy of an industrial fire, from the South of the poet's boyhood to the traveler's Italy and the Russia of the imagination and back again, David Rigsbee's poems offer as premise and example a sensibility at once tautly responsible and generous." ―Jordan Smith, author of The Names of Things Are Leaving
"David Rigsbee speaks "the language of the knife / sunk in and the cool matter / of heart coaxed out." He picks up widely scattered pieces for examination: radishes, doves, a bad painting, a lost brother. . . . Brooding over objects "surrounded by chaos, weeds, / and broken pottery that have given up any sense / of relationship to the world," he does not promise mending, but persists with voice and eye in the work of connection." ―author of Twigs and Knucklebones
"How intricate and almost fragile is the music of these weighty poems. David Rigsbee gives us stunning moments, he draws us under the deep water. “Like a good salt citizen I shiver / at the light’s breaking and turn / to my inward work,” and so we go with him, surprised that such an intelligence, such an ear and eye for the resonant landscape where “maple ignites like jelly in the frost,” can startle us―we who can no longer be startled―with a tenderness we had nearly forgotten." ―author of She Heads into the Wilderness
"The answer to the question, ‘How do we like it,’ that Rigsbee provides in The Red Tower is that we embrace the uncertainty of our existence. Rigsbee has encouraged us to live better, to make life better, by embracing the present tense, by submitting to an understanding that each of us is only a moment, by embodying Keats’s idea of negative capability: ‘being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts without any [or at least too much] irritable reaching after fact and reason.’ It is a lesson that will do us all good and that we need to be reminded of regularly." ―Wild Goose Poetry Review
"David Rigsbee writes in both formal and open forms with lines and phrases that catch the ear, tunnel in, and take up residence. Availing himself of traditions in realism, surrealism, and impressionism, he writes about cutting brush, watching stars, cleaning vegetables, and sunbathing, about family, poets, painters, musicians, crickets, Bermuda, Montauk trawlers, the murder of a circus violinist, Tolstoy, a ferry ride, an old swimming hole, a downpour, a rural childhood, and other subjects that offer readers a familiar basis of identification. The book is a marvel of thematic unity that might not have been otherwise possible.” ―Peter Makuck, Tar River Poetry
"It is because his voice is so finely attuned to his subject matter that the poems in The Red Tower manage to sing. The tension between thinking and feeling is the real subject of these poems. They are always working toward clarity of understanding, while acknowledging, sometimes ruefully, the mixed blessings that might be the reward." ―Alabama Writers’ Forum
"This collection contains work that shows, and permits the reader, enactments of meditation, matter given scope for expansive considering, seeing, hearing." ―CAIRN: The St. Andrews Review
"As Rigsbee finds the kernels of human connection among the mundane (pottery, kitchen knives, weeds) he also gives us incredible moments of sinister beauty and even hope among the natural and manmade world. This rich collection comes together so well because Rigsbee combines a surgeon’s eye with a poet’s voice of justice. In every poem there’s a reckoning of the present with the past scaffolded by sharp images and description. Through his clear language, original metaphors and images that are easy to visualize, Rigsbee reminds us how danger, possibility and joy make life sublime." ―author of Unfinished Projects and Right Lane Ends
"[H]andsomely produced and thoughtfully edited ... meditative, allegorical, philosophical, whose ancestry one would most likely trace back to Stevens, among others ... by turns comic, celebratory and elegiac ... David Rigsbee’s poems move with philosophical intensities. The perspectives the poems offer are complex, highly nuanced, rooted in critical engagements with a cultural tradition, and often less comfortable than the refusal of perspective practiced by more vertiginous writers. Such achievements are not so common as we might wish. The poems deepen rereading after rereading, and leave us both satisfied and looking forward to decades more work from [this] fine [poet]." ―Poetry Northwest
"In this elegant collection, which spans the range of Rigsbee's oeuvre to date, the poet's thoughtful and compassionate sensibility, guided by reflection and seared by the multivalent dimensions of loss, discovers its way forward through the inland waterways of memory, to reach for difficult epiphanies. With startling appositions of image and interrogative, and with Emersonian economy of diction, Rigsbee breaks open the factual planes of anecdote to re-construe the connections between them. Rigsbee's deep psychic engagement with perception, memory, culture and the politics of culture and human interaction, in all its expansiveness and limitation, is on full display here." ―Poetry
"The Red Tower is Rigsbee’s first publication with NewSouth Books, which, though another small press, seems more interested in publicizing its releases than do many others; The Red Tower thus seems likely to bring Rigsbee something more like the recognition he deserves. (Indeed, by the time of this writing, it has already won Rigsbee some notable awards.) Much of The Red Tower offers an attractive combination of precision and mystery: the language is deft, economical, and evocative. The Red Tower is a very rich book, one difficult to do justice in a brief review." ―The Journal
About the Author
A native of North Carolina, David Rigsbee is the author of seven full-length collections of poems and has published critical works on Joseph Brodsky and Carolyn Kizer. He is coeditor of Invited Guest: Southern Poetry in the Twentieth Century and has been the recipient of fellowships and prizes from NEA, NEH, and others.
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I did have trouble receiving my copy of this book through Amazon. It ended up at an old address and I had to repurchase it rather than get another copy because I purchased it second hand in a failed effort to save money. The end result was worth the extra expenditure.
Such uncertainty is a frequent source of frustration, sometimes even depression or desperation, but it is always also a source of possibility and purpose. I think of Robert Frost's wonderful poem, "The Road Not Taken," and how any attempt to determine the nature of the road Frost is suggesting one should take is frustrated by the poem's embrace of uncertainty, leaving one with the conclusion that Frost's real point is not which road one should take but only that it is one's willingness to choose a road and pursue it that makes "all the difference." In other words, it matters most that one is willing to try. Rigsbee's poems in The Red Tower have a similar undercurrent. He recognizes that his answer to the question is an embrace of uncertainty, which creates possibility, and each of the poems in this book clarifies how one pursues possibility, what one might encounter in that pursuit, and what consequence might occur along the way. The first clarification comes in his second poem, "After Reading," where he declares, "Purity is a curse . . . / It better fits / to turn away from the shore / in favor of the garbage and the grief."
The next clarification comes in his third poem, the book's title poem, "The Red Tower," where he attempts to discover meaning out of his brother's death, finding instead no transcendent answers. He declares that "Yeats was wrong when he wrote / that God talked to those long dead," and adds, "Even if / God talked to the dead, what could / He possibly say to them?" This is not the first time anyone has asked this question, and Rigsbee makes clear that it shouldn't be the last. If God is to have any real meaning to humanity, then this question needs to be asked repeatedly and persistently. The doubt expressed in those lines is repeated in the next poem, "The Apartment," as well, where he tells us that "Saints were said to emerge from their cells / and pause, before going forth out of the spirit, / in their rope belts, into the stony forests." If even saints pause between the realms of the spiritual and the physical, between life and death, then how could the rest of us expect any certainty, any correctness, any purity in our choices?
The four poems mentioned thus far are all from Rigsbee's new poems, so it's not surprising, perhaps, that the subject matter and attitudes they express are similar. It is most interesting to note, however, that the same perspective exists in the selected poems from his seven previous collections as well. My favorite of his expressions of this embrace of uncertainty comes from "The Stone House," a poem in memoriam of Edmund Wilson, whose very life embodied the necessary dialectic between ontology and epistemology, what one might call the balancing act of being human. Rigsbee proclaims:
Wanted: a sky-blue life,
wild valleys brought to heel
by threshers and the queer tame men
walking the swath of a glacier.
Wanted too, a meaning for these footsteps,
these crawfish on the stone ledge, crawling
back to the river, and the tiny water-shrew
there, particular and bashful.
We want both to be and to make meaning out of or discover meaning within being. Embracing this balancing act and the effort necessary to persistently create meaning from it is also central to another of my favorite of Rigsbee's older poems, "Equinox."
It is the equinox, and today I feel
the thrall that reconciles the animal
and the hole, cloud and lake, the sexes.
The ticking at the window grows . . .
but in the kitchen the summer flies still swirl.
I hunt them all, as if nothing
should learn to expect the impossible.
Negative eloquence . . . /
is why the fire saves nothing, discards nothing.
Rigsbee stresses appreciation of the difference between life, which is clearly eternal, and individual life, which is decidedly not. He also stresses the necessary duality of living and being aware of living, being in the moment and aware of being in the moment.
Finally, in "Caught in the Rain," another of Rigsbee's best early poems we hear the same message in perhaps his clearest words as he contemplates the freshness of world metaphorically washed clean of loss, regret, the ever-present past by rain:
It will be
like falling in love again
to feel the sky-chilled rain
wanting to press my shirt
into the likeness of my body
until I am the submissive one,
part bird, part worm, part of
what is without reason . . .
knowing only the present tense.
Throughout his decades-long work, Rigsbee has encouraged us to live better, to make life better, by embracing the present tense, by submitting to an understanding that each of us is only a moment, by embodying Keats' idea of negative capability: "being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts without any [or at least too much] irritable reaching after fact and reason." It is lesson that will do us all good and that we need to be reminded of regularly.