Welcome back, David Rigsbee!

This month we are celebrating the titles that we’ve acquired over the past twelve months. These manuscripts came to us through our open reading periods. Today we bring you David Rigsbee, whose forthcoming book Watchman in the Knife Factory: New and Selected Poems will be published next summer. This will be David’s fifth book with Black Lawrence Press.

Have a manuscript you think we’d like? During our June Open Reading Period we are looking for poetry (chapbooks and full-length collections), short fiction (again, both chapbooks and full-length collections), novels, novellas, nonfiction (CNF, biography, cultural studies), anthology proposals, and translations from German. 


The Author

David Rigsbee is the author of 21 books and chapbooks, including twelve previous full-length collections of poems.  In addition, 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. His work has appeared in AGNIThe 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 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. His most recent books are MAGA Sonnets of Donald Trump (2021) and a translation of Dante’s Paradiso (2023).




About Watchman in the Knife Factory: New and Selected Poems

Watchman in the Knife Factory consists of selections from nine previous collections, as well as poems written since my last volume, This Much I Can Tell You, from 2017. My wish to do such massive circumspection began a couple of years ago, when it occurred to me that I might put together a Collected Poems. I ran the idea up the flagpole, and while I was encouraged by the response of friends, it also began to settle in that I would be making a commitment to republish early work to which I no longer felt an affinity. I also learned that a Collected Poems would be harder to promote. I wanted something handier but still representative. The resulting book is still substantial but not, in the end, a doorstopper. It was in the late ‘70s, after I had turned 30, that I began to understand the degree of labor involved in getting a poem right, in making it memorable. My subjects—family, relationships, history, the scope of desire—found occasions that have remained plentiful over the years, and I have found myself evolving stylistically and working toward more clarity. Watchman also tilts toward elegy, poems that praise what no longer is. This way culminated in an event that became the paramount subject of the 1990s: the suicide of my brother and subsequently with the shrinking of my kin. They look homeward, but a counter strain situates itself in the infinite present and takes praise as its given stance. This evolution coincides chronologically with the places I have lived: North Carolina, Louisiana, New York, and Seattle. Two of my collections were written in Paris and Italy.

My process is simple: write every day, if only in a notebook. I find that although I do write something this way, my poems arrive in batches. They are seasonal, and I work to extend the space that’s open to me. Most of my collections were written over a period of several months, after which the land would lie fallow for more months. But during the down time, I go about revising, often working on poems for a year or more before I’m ready to show them. As a result, the poems in my collections bear a family resemblance to each other. When I’m working, I often have the sense that I’m pushing at walls to make more room. When you think about it, that’s a trait that belongs to all poetry: it enables expansion, of experience, emotion, and thought. It’s as though I’m aware that there is something on the other side of the walls—call it what you will: silence, or the unknown, death perhaps, though that is to introduce a morose note to the idea. In any case, it accompanies my curiosity and makes me understand that poems themselves, along with the purity of song which is their birthright, are also boxes of words and the page, a wall.


Selections from Watchman in the Knife Factory


A Life Preserver


He watches the light move in and out

behind the evening clouds and listens

to the wild duck’s long, sad cadence,

interrupted by crows. He senses

the still air is indifferent

to these rituals. For all that,

he knows the connections there

are the nodes of moments

already deep in the braid

of a rope, coiled and put

in a public place under lock and key,

a life preserver, in case of emergency.





They are without memory, making

up the night’s story continually,

like Scheherazade. They are the old men

who pull the wool caps down

over their brows after the fashion

of railway baggage clerks.

They limp, paying no mind

to a missing leg. They crawl

in the bottom of bait buckets

knowing there is no exit.

When the grass grows thick

as the pile of a Persian rug,

and intoxicated with rain,

bully with heat, they are there

picking their way through tropical

forests. Then when night comes

and with it desire, and with it

love, and with it love’s decline,

and with it death and the second death,

they take their place in the orchestra.





It wasn’t the end when

my girlfriend handed me the phone

in the middle of the night and said,

“Here. Say hello to my husband.”

And it wasn’t the end of anything

when another grabbed the wheel at 70

and screamed, “I could pull this

right off the road right now!

I could do it right now!”

Those frenzies have passed

into something like the memory

of a good novel, weighted in one’s lap

when the day is cleared,

and there’s nothing left to do

but look in on the Russians

passing out at the feet of their superiors,

emptying their wallets into the fireplace,

throwing their brain-stuffed heads

before the locomotive of History,

rather than face the vivid memory

of errors committed when the face

was hot and stared into the eyes

of that intransigent, that other face.