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Praise for The Red Tower

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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This collection contains work that shows, and permits the reader, enactments of meditation, matter given scope for expansive considering, seeing, hearing.
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.
[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].
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.
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.