a brief note on the poetry of Karen Solie
Karen Solie's first collection of poetry, Short Haul Engine (Brick Books), was certainly a long time coming (although not as long as the wait for Suzanne Buffam, or that I might simply wait forever for Michael Londry to ever publish a book) after her poems appeared in, among others, the 1995 anthology Breathing Fire (Harbour), and Hammer & Tongs (Smoking Lung, 1999). The collection itself was shortlisted for the second Griffin Poetry Prize, the Gerald Lampert Award and the ReLit Award, as well as winner of the Dorothy Livesay Prize (BC Book Prizes) in 2002. Her poems in this collection were thick with thoughtful phrases and muscular layers.
Some of us are eating small sandwiches.
Some of us have taken pills and are swallowing
glass after glass of gin.
We were never intended to view the curve of the earth
so they give us televisions, a film
about a man and his daughter who teach a flock
of Canada geese to fly.
Part of what could easily be called a new generation picking up on Don McKay's "pastoral" (others in this loose group are Ken Babstock, David O'Meara, Adam Dickinson, and even, sometimes, Andy Weaver), Solie's poems exist on the back roads, behind Moose Jaw, and radiate darkness and light, as in the poem "In Praise of Grief" or "Three for a Friend in Lieu of Some Help" that writes, "How often will you say grief / before the sinking of that stone / is complete, its gravity, / at last, rest?" Solie's poems mine adolescent awareness and experience, things that stay with you and do not leave; of rural things that city folk just might not know about. Hers is a familiar movie seen late at night, less a memory.
When the body of an animal
is occupied by a hunter lost
in a killing cold,
steam rises as souls do
from that small red room.
Her second collection, new this year, is Modern and Normal (Brick Books). Published during Brick Books' thirtieth anniversary, the poems in Modern and Normal continue the voice of her previous collection, writing poems on the rough parts of speech in a terrible beauty, poems in a stark and pristine detail. Carved out of speech, hers is an art of wood and the knife; approaching each line like a wood-carver, a surgeon, a scientist. The tensions built up between form and content seem even more resonant, in rough poems of madness or sheer accident, constructed in fine lines. I mean, how many poems in the world do you think exist about football players?
Found: Bruce. After Last Call
-- Overheard. Thursday's Bar, Victoria, Feb, 2000
It was fun. Got us out of Lethbridge.
We used to drive to Raymond
to beat up their quarterback.
They have the highest rate of injury. Short,
usually. My girlfriend Leslie was a sweet
Mormon princess. She left me
for the big man. First time I met him
he patted me on the head and said
"You're a good football player."
I spent four years with the NCAA, brought in
as centre. They liked my attitude and ability
to buy weed. If there're 24 jobs in the NFL
there are 34,000 players applying
for each one. You'd never think it.
I'm a little guy now. Coke. Booze.
Steroids. We dropped acid
and went to the dinosaur museum
in Pocatello, Idaho. Otherwise, lots of guns
and buying drugs from Hawaiians.
If there was an asshole alive,
I knew him. People think all jocks
are fucked. I've spent years apologizing
to my mother for the porcupine incident.
Part of a series of found pieces throughout the collection, each one highlighting another aspect of the world that might not easily fall into poems, or with such speech.
To Have and Have Not
To have missed the plane. To have never fit his body
to his name, felt them click, and that slip-knot below her navel
slip. To have not taken his hand, in a strange city,
and been overcome. To have reconsidered,
and meant it. To have not returned, those missing hours
presented like a bad meal, and thought that this
is how it feels to follow night across the world.
To have not lived inside it since. Oh to have taken
the guidance counsellor's advice and become a secretary.
To have done the right thing, or the wrong one,
but with conviction. To have never read Eros and Civilization
and developed a theory. To have asked questions first,
or none at all. To have never gone with him to the basement
and felt his mouth upon her skin. To have worn
not what she did but instead the blouse, the white one,
that with a touch falls away. To have not felt that slip-knot
slip, his body click, placed her hand upon his hip,
and been pushed up hard against the wall.
Karen Solie reads with David Seymour at the Plan 99 End of Autumn Series, Saturday November 26 at The Manx Pub (370 Elgin Street @ Frank) at 5pm. Hosted/co-organized by David O'Meara.
for future readings at the Plan 99 series (and other Ottawa literary events), check out the listings at Bywords.