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PoetrySnaps! Karen Rigby: Tangelo

Gilbert-based poet Karen Rigby
Photo by Marie Feutrier
Gilbert-based poet Karen Rigby

This week’s featured guest is Gilbert-based poet Karen Rigby reading Tangelo. She says the inspiration came from her childhood memory of seeing a disturbing magazine cover photo depicting political violence. Rigby’s poem weaves together that trauma with vivid sensory beauty, creating a fragile balance of human experiences.

Karen Rigby:

I'll give you a little background: I was born in Panama City, Panama. In 1989 I was about 10-years-old, and the presidential election was annulled. This was back in the time of General Noriega, and the man who had become vice president, Guillermo Ford, was photographed being attacked by Noriega supporters. It's a really famous photo by Ron Haviv, an American photojournalist. And it ended up on the cover of Time magazine that May.

So, I remember seeing it and being haunted by the violence. That's the photo that inspired this poem. It was unintentional. I didn't expect that moment to arrive in the poem because the poem starts out thinking about a tangelo, and layers of memory, and just the physicality of it. That moment from the past just arrived, and it seemed necessary to work.

I think for me when I write, there's a certain reverence for language and for the work. And so for me, it becomes a duty to communicate that to someone else too. It's a form of letting people know that the world can be very difficult, but there's a lot of beauty to be found in it. And when you read a poem, it mind remind you a little bit of that.


Who doesn’t love the portmanteau
for tangerine and pomelo, or more like angel,
tango, words for wilderness,

how I like planting you, reader,
in the thick of it. Also known
as honeybell, the peel lifting off

like a capelet, the poem a long path
for getting at the flesh: its obdurate slickness.
A tangelo’s not a metaphor for anything

which is why I love its simple divisions.
The pith a lacework or dragnet.
Where I’m from, Haviv’s photo

of a bleeding vice president—Guillermo Ford
in his guayabera, bludgeoned by gangs
of the opposition—went viral

months before the invasion of Panama.
In 1989, savagery seeps through what we know.
The tangelo’s no ritual, but it’s as good

as anything when it comes to hooking
the past through the eye of the present.
I can let lightning stitch my lip

or forget a country with dead dictators.
It’s not the shape of a world that counts.
It’s the scent in my closed palm.

About the poet:

Karen Rigby is a Gilbert-based poet and book reviewer. She is the author of two poetry collections, including Fabulosa, set for release in 2024. Rigby is a National Endowment for the Arts literature fellow and received a 2023 artist opportunity grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts.

About the host:

Steven Law is the co-producer of KNAU’s series PoetrySnaps! He is a poet, essayist, storyteller, and the author of Polished, a collection of poems about exploring the Colorado Plateau by foot and by raft.

About the music:

Original music by Flagstaff-based band Pilcrowe.

PoetrySnaps! airs the first and third Friday of each month.

Steven Law was the co-producer of KNAU’s series PoetrySnaps!
Gillian Ferris was the News Director and Managing Editor for KNAU.