Dirt divers, you pop up, fast and fleshy weeds. We turn
our ankles where you’ve been and bust your heads
for fun. In the lab of summertime we experiment the finer points
of poison, snares, gasoline, twist your tails off at the root,
then finally, old enough, use that Christmas .22 gifted
lovingly oiled, with a big red bow. You eat and breed. We try
to drown you out. You’re thieves, and we can’t spare a thing.
In winter, as you coma deep inside your rancid holes,
we satisfy ourselves chasing rabbits with Ski-doos
until spring when hungry coyotes raid the coops and we need
to shoot them too. They kill the fawns, reserved
for city hunters who pay cash to anyone who’ll take them
through the fields. Each season has its cruelties. It’s for the best.
Is nature not more callous than the gun? First and precious
taste of blood, there’s always more where you come from.
About this poem
The Scotland Canada Exchange 2006 – 2007, in partnership with Canada's poetry magazine Arc, features Scottish poets introducing the work of their favourite Canadians, and Canadian poets presenting the work of their chosen Scots.
John Glenday introduces Canadian poet Karen Solie:
I met Karen Solie and heard her read, and was impressed when I returned to Edmonton for a reunion of Writers in Residence in March 2006. She read in one of the newer buildings of the University – one wall a curve of windows and steady snow falling outside.
There was a hush both sides of the glass. She read well. Afterwards I bought her pamphlet The Shooter's Bible and discovered that her poems sound as good on the page as they read in the air, that they had weight as well as music. I went straight back and bought Modern and Normal, her latest collection.
Two poems caught my attention that first day: 'An Argument for Small Arms', in which Solie subtly conflates details of gunmanship and desire, and 'The Birds of British Columbia', a gem of a 'found' poem which I kept pondering and rereading for the rest of my stay in Canada.
I like the way she takes risks with her poems – the way she includes 'The Birds of British Columbia' and another six found poems in Modern and Normal, and it works:
'Describe the family of curves. Find the common eccentricity,
when the loci exist. Describe the family and find
the common eccentricity. Describe the family.
Show that the members of the family are pairs
of parallel lines. Show that a term cannot be introduced
into the equation by the rotation of axes.'
And it works, of course, because it works on different levels, with everything turning on the double meaning of 'axes'.
I like the way her poetry can be hopelessly learned, but doesn't shut us out: for example, mixing Xavier de Maistre's bizarre Journey around my Bedroom, Simone Weil, an old man with his Boston Terrier and Blaise Pascal all in one poem; a poem which kicks off with Heidegger's Abyss and ends in Baudrillard's America ('The Apartments'). I like the way she details the inhumanities that make us human, then counts herself in with the rest of humanity:
'An indigenous squirrel regards me squarely
from a branch. Cougars are culling local pets,
elk calve with murder in their eyes, and it's the worst
tick season in 40 years. The whole valley
is out for blood, for itself. As, of course, am I.'
Her closeness to nature is obvious, but this is farm-nature; it's nature in the raw - there isn't a micron of sentimentality in there. Most of all, though, I like her poems because they are beautiful and say something to me that needs said.
Xavier de Maistre described the room around which he journeyed as 'that enchanted realm containing all the wealth and riches of the world'. Meaning, of course, the world of the imagination. Karen Solie's poems are certainly imaginative, they are bright and rich and dark and full of weathers, each one a little world closed in a little room. Step inside.