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Karen Solie’s first collection of poems, Short Haul Engine, won the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize and was shortlisted for the 2002 Griffin Poetry Prize, the ReLit and the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. Her second, Modern and Normal, was shortlisted for the Trillium Book Award for Poetry. Her poetry, fiction and non-fiction have appeared in numerous North American journals. She is a native of Saskatchewan and now lives in Toronto.

Pigeon

House of Anansi
2010 Winner
Canada
Shortlisted in:

Judges’ Citation

Karen Solie’s first book of poems, Short Haul Engine – a nice phrase for poetry – stood out for its mix of physical impressions, perceptual strength, and – especially – mental grace.

Karen Solie’s first book of poems, Short Haul Engine – a nice phrase for poetry – stood out for its mix of physical impressions, perceptual strength, and – especially – mental grace. A kind of liveliness, agility, connectivity. In ‘Early in Winter,’ one of her many car poems, she writes: ‘feet cold, heart wagging its little tail.’ Grief shows: ‘what is not in everything/ there is; and all/ it wants to talk about/ is you.’ A monstrous old fish, a sturgeon, is hauled out of the water by some teenagers, but then, // when he began to heave and thrash over yards of rock/ to the water’s edge and, unbelievably, in,/ we couldn’t hold him though we were teenaged/ and bigger than everything. Could not contain/ the old current he had for a mind, its pull,/ and his body a muscle called river, called spawn.’

 

There is toughness here, as well as grace. Often in her pages, we encounter wisdom of a severity that we would almost rather not know. A cold person is a different species; there is a dismal companionship in grief, the water stays in the fish, even when the fish is out of the water. Short Haul Engine is not just an exceptional debut, it is an exceptional book.

Judges’ Citation

Among the greatest of Solie’s talents, evident throughout the poems of Pigeon, is an ability to see at once into and through our daily struggle, often thwarted by our very selves, toward something like an honourable life.

If virtue is love ordered and controlled,/its wild enemy has made a home in me. And if/desire injures the spirit, I am afflicted,’ says Karen Solie in one of Pigeon‘s finest poems, ‘An Acolyte Reads The Cloud of Unknowing.’ It’s this particular affliction of desire – and the corrosive effects of human desire both upon ourselves and the world we inhabit – that Solie most often meditates upon in poems as humorous, often, as they are sobering. ‘Gone are the bad old good old days. Before us,/vast unfenced acres of decline,’ she says in ‘Prayers for the Sick.’ Solie forces us to look squarely at that decline, the landscapes we’ve ruined, the vistas we’ve cluttered, in service to a longing that, as she puts it, ‘hovers like billboards/over the expressway.’ The vision here is powerful, philosophical, intelligent, especially adept at pulling great wisdom from the ordinary – as when a tractor is found to manifest ‘fate, forged/like a pearl around the grit of centuries.’ It may be, as Solie suggests, that ‘the honourable life/is like timing. One might not have the talent for it.’ Among the greatest of Solie’s talents, evident throughout the poems of Pigeon, is an ability to see at once into and through our daily struggle, often thwarted by our very selves, toward something like an honourable life.