Black Lawrence Press
June 28, 2016

Welcome Back, David Rigsbee!

This month we are featuring the poets and writers who have signed with us since last summer—all writers who submitted work during one of our two annual open reading periods.

Today we bring you David Rigsbee whose poetry collection This Much I Can Tell You will be his fourth publication with Black Lawrence Press.

The Author

Greta and David in SohoDavid Rigsbee is the author of 21 books and chapbooks, including seven previous full-length collections of poems.  In addition to his poems, he has also published critical works on Carolyn Kizer and Joseph Brodsky, whom he also translated.  He has co-edited two anthologies, including Invited Guest:  An Anthology of Twentieth Century Southern Poetry, a “notable book” selection of the American Library Association and the American Association of University Professors and featured on C-Span Booknotes.  His work has appeared in AGNI, The American Poetry Review, The Georgia Review, The Iowa Review, The New Yorker, The Iowa Review, The Ohio Review, Poetry, Prairie Schooner, The Sewanee Review, The Southern Review, and many others.  He has been recipient of two creative writing fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as a NEH summer fellowship to the American Academy in Rome. His other awards include The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown fellowship, The Virginia Commission on the Arts literary fellowship, The Djerassi Foundation and Jentel Foundation residencies, and an Award from the Academy of American Poets.  Winner of a 2012 Pushcart Prize, the Vachel Lindsay Poetry Award and the Pound Prize, he was also 2010 winner of the Sam Ragan Award for contribution to the arts in North Carolina. Rigsbee is currently contributing editor for The Cortland Review.

 

 

The Book

Where did you write the book?

Most of This Much I Can Tell You was written over several months in New York, when I was living with my daughter [see picture with me and Greta, the cat]. She had just come back from a master’s program in American Lit. and written a thesis on Nabokov, so it was like having a literary critic in the house.

What is your favorite memory from working on this manuscript?

I remember sitting in my study with my daughter, who sat on a daybed one evening and read every poem in front of me one evening and commented on each. I also remember sitting across the table from my old friend, the poet Linda Gregg, whom I was talking to practically every day, and having long discussions about the poems—and about poems generally, their need to find the simplicities that underlie emotional transport.

How did you know that the book was done and ready to send out?

The book is all of a piece. When I wrote the last poem (“January”), I realized that this was it, a book. Having recently divorced, after a long marriage, I felt the need to write a book of love poems, as a way of honoring that long commitment. I also wondered how few such books were published (I also wrote an essay on John Berryman’s Berryman’s Sonnets during this period), the exception being Sharon Olds’ wonderful Stag’s Leap, so the scope and difficulty of the project became one of the themes. It turned out less a book of love poems than a book about what it means to navigate turbulent, but wonderful and final, waters.

What’s on your reading list for this summer?

Plato, The Republic

Nabokov, Pnin

Oakshott, “The Voice of Poetry in the Conversation of Mankind”

Louis Menand, The Metaphysical Club

Irving Howe, World of Our Fathers

Jorie Graham, George Seferis, Wallace Stevens, Walt Whitman

 

Excerpt

This Much I Can Tell You

Sometimes it feels as if the mind
will seal itself up and you can go
a great distance without ever seeing
those who ever spoke your name.
You hear everything from cacophony
to a symphony played on instruments,
provenance unknown, stored out of sight
long ago.  It’s a closed system
but vast, and time unfolds there too,
unrelenting, nothing in abeyance,
like animal eyes suddenly appearing
in the roadside weeds and fields,
through which the highway plunges,
and on it a car traveling, not speeding,
not hanging back either.  This much
I can tell you:  there is smoke
beyond the mind, to which the mind turns,
as to a burning house, flames raging,
spurting from the second story windows.
Shouldn’t you be running up the lawn?
Shouldn’t there be, in truth, more fires?

A Certain Person

It was Auden, I believe, who said that
in a certain person’s presence he felt
“incapable of doing anything base
or unloving.”  Walking past the flat
on St. Mark’s Place, past the memorial
plaque that, until this year, bore his name,
I look ahead to the park where
the homeless line up, as black squirrels
hop down from the leafless trees
to forage in the dry grass, the same
grass where a tiny mouse, rescued
from someone’s sink and carried
in a clear, half-pint container, now roams,
if mice can be said to roam. And
persons capable of doing both base
and unloving things stroll across the bricks
the way they do in pictures of promenades
of foreign capitals between the wars.
The homeless line holds steady
all afternoon, and from a loudspeaker
somewhere comes the clarinet I take
to be Artie Shaw’s.  From somewhere else
Lil Wayne answers. Neither could be
described as without difficulty.  Shaw,
for instance, was married eight times.
Where is the Auden plaque now?
It must be someplace, even if
it’s no place. And when Shaw recorded
“Green Eyes,” was there a mouse
in a sink somewhere wondering with his
tiny wit about the flatness and the whiteness
and the dark hole at the center?

Falsetto

I saw Frankie Avalon and Lou Christie once
with their shirts off.  It was outside, May,
Louisiana, their modest torsos QT-ed, each
wearing a Rolex the sun would catch and turn
to dazzle, as they lifted the mike up delicately
to their Elvis-imitating mouths and belted
the fistful of fervid hits for which they
had formed the oldies revue aimed at ironists
and romantic questers like me.  Why we
rose to stand there, the sweating congregation
of us, I can’t say, except we were served
by mock enthusiasm, the en-theo, or God-in-us
we came away feeling.  And not Avalon,
with his Hebe-like face and curled locks,
whose routine tenor rode a wave of melody
until it petered out like foam.  It was Christie,
with that screechy larynx, as if fleeing fire,
who seemed suddenly yanked from earth.
He had discovered he had two faces,
and the shock of realization propelled him
upward, hair frozen, trunk sleek, defenseless
and boney.  Yet he was suddenly striving toward God
because only He could rescue the Everyman
otherwise ensnared in banalities of the mortal coil,
not the least of which was failure at love
and the subsequent covering up to restore
a semblance of equilibrium.  But everyone knew
it was merely, in Salinger’s phrase, sad-making.
It was not worth the saccharine, much less
a voice taking wing in an unnatural register
to knock at the door of such a vapid mystery
as failure. It was as if the emotion’s allegorical
figure stood before self-esteem long enough
to allow forgetting to melt it all away.
This is my theme:  how a pop star poked
a hole in the sky and flew into it so that
heaven would know what we have always known:
that one face was not enough to be true.
When I understood that, I could have
laid my treasures at his feet, declared him
my King, except that he, Lou Christie,
was of course a fool and moreover headed
to the bin where records go, where they become
trash never to be recycled beyond a paltry
decade or two, so as to be closer to us,
as we are music to death itself, a ratio
pleasing no doubt to the Heaven of Plato,
endlessly soaring, high-pitched, and perfect.

 

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