In the foreword What the Poets Are Doing: Canadian Poets in Conversation, editor Rob Taylor gives his inspiration for the collection: 2002’s Where the Words Come From: Canadian Poets in Conversation (Nightwood Editions) edited by Tim Bowling. Where Bowling’s editorial vision encompassed an homage to Al Purdy (who died in 2000), Taylor’s honours the work of deceased poet and Tragically Hip singer Gord Downey. The title, What the Poets Are Doing, echoes a lyric from the Tragically Hip song “Poets.”
Karen Solie’s fourth collection unsettles and exposes the false comforts of stasis. That these are poems of change and travel is evident from their titles alone—“Rental Car,” “Via”—but mobility is temporally as well as spatially contingent. Poems offer transitions in and out of the familiar, whether on foot or through “Google Earth’s invisible pervert.” Distance can exacerbate difference, or occlude it. Thus while the book is thematically tight, it is not preciously so. Invasions become forms of extreme locality, questions of who or what belongs: bedbugs, gentrification, “the seeds of Walmart / sprouting in the demographic.” If “We are all locals now” then no one is. Named places, like “Sault Ste. Marie,” act not only as destinations, but also as sites of constant movement, conceptual as well as physical border towns, their alien-ness exaggerated by speakers always just passing through.
(How Poems Work, August 2005)
Karen Connelly’s “How Clean You Have Become” is a poem of the experience that follows mourning. It illustrates the loss which occurs after grieving has passed, as our memories diffuse, slip away from us. It speaks of what we are left with in the wake of not only the loss of the person but also the loss of grief and the loss of memory. “In the end, the edges of memory/ are licked smooth/ by the rough tongue of time,/ wiped clean./ All you did was beautiful, and good.” In the aftermath of mourning, the poem indicates, we in essence rebuild those we have lost. The dead, or more aptly our recollections of the dead, become regulated to a type of purgatory where we, the living, choose to ignore sins and scars. We choose forgetfulness and push recollection to the margins of consciousness….
(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….