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Author Spotlight: Karen Rigby

ISBN:9781956907094 | $18 | JackLeg Press | pp. 76 | Publication Date: June 10, 2024


What are some key themes present in your book?

Fabulosa includes memory, poetry itself (there are several ars poetica poems), love for beauty and art, and the remaking of a self, among others, but I hope readers will mine their own themes.

Can you talk about your use of form and theory?

The forms in Fabulosa include tercets, couplets, the prose poem, and one monostitch, among others. It’s a conscious decision to include a variety in my work. But that has less to do with form, per se, than it has to do with the visual aspects of making a book.

I like being able to page through a book and sense the differences in how each poem was made. Perhaps that’s a naive restlessness on my part. Even eye candy. But part of this, too, is being drawn toward poems that seem to have an organic, inevitable quality to them: they were hewn in this manner because they had to be.

More broadly, the book divides into three sections: “Noir & Glitz,” “Wolf Behind the Saint,” and “In the Director’s Cut.” Those section titles derive from phrases contained in the book’s opening poem, which is a blueprint. That opening poem also includes the first mention of gloves, which become a recurrent motif, and it also introduces elements of crime and glamour that reappear later, too. Even the notion of a “plot” comes around again, in a poem titled “On the Failures of Plot.”

Writing Fabulosa taught me something about theme and variation. I learned how to write this book in the course of writing it. You could say that the form (of a book) is both made, and revealed.

I also learned that I was wrong: I used to think that content determines the form, but in this case, because I kept returning to that opening poem in various ways, I’ve found that now and then, setting the form will generate the content, it can in fact go in more than one direction. Poetry is vast enough for contradiction, revision, and exception.

Do you have any advice for new and emerging writers? Is there anything you wish you knew?

Read widely. And don’t think of inspiration as a lightning strike. The material that finds its way into a poem is often subconscious. You may be gathering ideas without realizing it, or thinking for many years in silence, or observing details that will only resurface much later, even when it looks like you aren’t writing.

People can teach you technique. But no one can teach you perception and instinct. Those are both more bodily, I think, and they refine with time.

If I had any advice for my past self, it would be to write with greater abandon. I wish I had known sooner what it looks and feels like to go for broke.

What’s your favorite line(s) from your book?

“I wanted to write, but none of the words / meant saudade” makes me think about the perpetual search for language and the inadequacy of words, even poetry, to express memory, longing, and experience. We are haunted by much, and poetry haunts us, in turn.

Is there a connection to your past in your book?

Yes. A few poems revisit late adolescence. A few are set in Panama and Pittsburgh, where I once lived. More widely, a few poems include aspects of the past that I’ve never lived. Whether it happens through a glancing, lighter mention (of Gloria Swanson, for instance), or a reference to history (the Doomsday clock), these poems gesture toward knowing that the past is never as distant as it seems.

How did writing this book transform you?

Every book makes its own demands and creates an atmosphere.

In the moment when I am writing an individual poem, I don’t necessarily know what the larger landscape is even going to be about. I do know that I can trust that the act of writing one poem will lead me into finding the next. Fabulosa reaffirms this for me. It’s like walking through a series of doors.

And the longer I write, the more I can live with uncertainty about understanding the “how” or “when” surrounding all of this. As far as transformation goes: it would take the next book to show what’s changed.

Did another artform influence this work? Painting, music, dancing, etc.

While writing Fabulosa, I listened to the Ludovico Einaudi album In a Time Lapse. The book includes, too, poems inspired by Bruegel, Bosch, Tamara de Lempicka, Olympic figure skating programs, Dior’s Bar suit, and TV dramas. In many ways, this book is a museum of influences.

Art is often in conversation with other art, and my poems reveal their sources. I would not have become a poet without other books, and all of the arts.


Born in the Republic of Panama, Karen Rigby is the author of Chinoiserie (Ahsahta Press, 2012), which won the 2011 Sawtooth Poetry Prize, and Fabulosa (JackLeg Press, 2024). A National Endowment for the Arts literature fellow, she freelances in Arizona.


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