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Essay

Heather Simeney MacLeod on Karen Solie's "In Praise of Grief"

(How Poems Work, July 2005)
In the first stanza of Karen Solie’s poem “In Praise of Grief”, the second person narration does what few second person narration pieces of writing are able to accomplish. It literally refers to you and is not an “I”. Solie is successful at this, in the first stanza, because her poem is tightly woven, the images are sparse and exact, for some people certainly do live their whole lives (yes, their whole lives) coddled as eggs. Though the images are sparse, exact, and tightly woven, they are also universal. They are applicable to most readers. Solie offers us comfort with the realization that, of course, like the speaker of the poem, we feel alone at times….

In the first stanza of Karen Solie’s poem “In Praise of Grief”, the second person narration does what few second person narration pieces of writing are able to accomplish. It literally refers to you and is not an “I”. Solie is successful at this, in the first stanza, because her poem is tightly woven, the images are sparse and exact, for some people certainly do live their whole lives (yes, their whole lives) coddled as eggs. Though the images are sparse, exact, and tightly woven, they are also universal. They are applicable to most readers. Solie offers us comfort with the realization that, of course, like the speaker of the poem, we feel alone at times.


In the first stanza of Karen Solie’s poem “In Praise of Grief”, the second person narration does what few second person narration pieces of writing are able to accomplish. It literally refers to you and is not an “I”. Solie is successful at this, in the first stanza, because her poem is tightly woven, the images are sparse and exact, for some people certainly do live their whole lives (yes, their whole lives) coddled as eggs. Though the images are sparse, exact, and tightly woven, they are also universal. They are applicable to most readers. Solie offers us comfort with the realization that, of course, like the speaker of the poem, we feel alone at times.
The second stanza, however, shifts from a universal awareness to a subjective and personal awareness. It is at this point, within the second stanza, that an undisguised “I” emerges from the narration. Such a development is interesting in a poem as contained as this: the reader has already been invited in, we have in essence already been fooled, lulled, our defenses are down. The second stanza, as well, moves the reader into that murky space between sleep and waking. It is unfortunate that as we leave our twenties behind us there comes an awareness of others around us, and the discovery of the aloneness and, at times, loneliness inherent within the ever-so-present and the unveiled “I”. The second stanza is indicative of what may happen to many people who find life difficult to the point of requiring a sense of numbness. Solie evokes an understanding of the need for numbness, and makes it appear inviting, particularly at the close of the poem where she writes, “In fact,/ a kind of beauty, showing/ what is not in everything/ that is; and all/ it wants to talk about/ is you.”
Solie epitomizes the sedative as a doting parent, “fingers on your brow,/ undresses you slowly/ and stays,/ holds your hand until/ you sleep,” the one we idealized in childhood. This, perhaps, is where she took her title. The idealized notion harboured in childhood of our mothers and our fathers can be the first strike of grief, the first strike of autonomy, the first notion of “I”.
“In Praise of Grief” is the illustration of the day-to-day, “Come home from a day/ in the world and it talks/ you down;” and of sorrow, which at varying times can be difficult to shake loose of, and which can move a person toward the desire for a state of numbness. Solie brings us to the sense of aloneness, a sense of separateness from those around us, and indeed she reminds us of what it is to feel separate, to feel alone, to feel “I”.