Interview by Cynthia Reeser, for Prick of the Spindle
. . . Look at the bat’s wing,
scalloped, brown ink flawed. Each rib
could hold the weight of a balloon
like the one now leaking helium.
Why do we do it, the dumb abandonment?
Houses mushroom in the woods. Imagine the view,
the body speeding in sleep.
-from “Design for a Flying Machine”
Karen Rigby, author of 2004’s Festival Bone, discusses her writing techniques and motivations. Savage Machinery, forthcoming from Finishing Line Press this September, is a must-read for poets and appreciators.
Cynthia Reeser: Are there one or more motivating factors that drive your writing, like language or rhythm or ideas?
Karen Rigby: One of the main sources for motivation is reading the work of other poets. Reading might inspire me to look up a word I haven’t used before, or to write a poem in response to an image or line, or simply to pursue the work of other writers because something in that first book, whichever book it was, opened a door. It’s a circuitous route from one book to the next, but all of them feed into my writing on some level. Once I start writing, sound plays a role in keeping the poem moving. I don’t count beats or syllables or have a formal way of going about it. How a line should sound is largely dictated by how I think it should read in my mind. When it doesn’t sound “right,” I know the poem isn’t working.
CR: What motivates you as a writer?
KR: Each time I write a poem, I never know how it will end. It’s that process of discovery that keeps me going—to see how much further I can push an idea or line, to see how my writing will change over time, how that reflects where I am in my life. But curiosity is only one half of the equation—the desire to share the work with a reader is the other half.
CR: In “Design for a Flying Machine,” there is a line near the end that serves as a turn, like in a sonnet, moving the subject matter to the next level. In the final two lines that follow, the tone and voice change to fascinating effect. Can you comment on your use of this technique?
KR: This wasn’t a conscious technique, so it intrigues me that you’ve noticed that. “Design for a Flying Machine” was originally a slightly longer poem, written about a year after 9/11. The “acre” referred to the town in Pennsylvania. The balloons referred to the makeshift memorials people leave. Later, after some reflection, that amount of specificity seemed extraneous. I didn’t want the poem to be about one event that had been written about by many others—it seemed like enough to invoke DaVinci’s sketch, and to contemplate disasters in general. That’s how, in later drafts, the poem arrived at its current form.
CR: What is your vision for your work; where do you hope to be in ten years?
KR: I’d like to have completed and published my first book. That’s an ongoing project. But more importantly, I hope to be writing differently than I am now. Different subjects, different approaches, a deeper understanding. I started by writing numerous small conceits, very lyrical, metaphor-driven poems, often less than 20 lines in length. Only more recently did I branch out into something longer, and even that took a few years, so it’ll be exciting to see what kind of poems I’ll be writing in 10 years that are currently beyond my grasp.
Savage Machinery by Karen S. Rigby
Finishing Line Press, September 2008