Karen Solie | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Karen Solie

Karen Solie, poet (b at Moose Jaw, Sask 6 Jul 1966). Prize-winning and internationally celebrated poet Karen Solie grew up on her family's farm in rural Saskatchewan.

Karen Solie, poet (b at Moose Jaw, Sask 6 Jul 1966). Prize-winning and internationally celebrated poet Karen Solie grew up on her family's farm in rural Saskatchewan. She was educated at the University of Lethbridge and the University of Victoria. She has taught English at the University of Victoria and poetry at the Banff Centre for the Arts Writing Studio. Solie has also served as writer-in-residence at universities and arts centres across the country, including the University of Alberta and the University of New Brunswick. Karen Solie is one of the country's leading contemporary Canadian lyric poets.

The diverse geographies of Karen Solie's life find their way into her poems, which explore ambiguous but brooding moments that illuminate a range of communities both urban and rural. Thus, late-night smokers from a noisy bar end up standing before a church that is trying earnestly to fit into contemporary advertising culture. Elsewhere, a reader has a chance, magical encounter with German philosopher Walter Benjamin by a lake in rural Saskatchewan. A character in the dark winter of northern Norway struggles to remember if they own or owned a car. Through its exploration of in-between states, Solie's writing highlights evocative moments in richly-drawn geographies while maintaining a sense of shiftiness and unsettledness. Her language reveals an unstable sense of power and identity and queries the process by which experience translates into knowledge.

Karen Solie's first book of poetry, Short Haul Engine (2001), won the 2002 Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize, and was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize, the Gerald Lampert Award, and the ReLit Award. One reviewer observed that her title functioned well as a comment on the lyric poem itself. However, the title more obviously alludes to the book's dominant imagery of engines, trucks, and cars, including their function and symbolism in the endless open distances of the Canadian prairies. Though these are lyric poems, they most often evade sentiment and nostalgia through images that are precise and mechanical.

Karen Solie's second book of poetry, Modern and Normal (2005), was shortlisted for the 2006 Trillium Book Award, longlisted for the ReLit Award, and named one of the top 100 books of 2005 by the Globe and Mail. Solie has confessed to being interested in how language often "gives itself away," how seemingly innocent language can resonate with dark, psychological innuendo. From this interest, Solie includes 6 examples of "found poetry" taken directly from such sources as a bibliography from the British Columbia Provincial Museum, a math text-book, and the writing on beer cans on Air Canada flights. Other poems contain sketches of narratives or snippets of suggestive overheard conversations from a diverse range of settings across the continent. Modern and Normal presents a contemporary version of the lyric that evades the maudlin by presenting tightly-composed and wickedly wry snapshots of the strangeness of contemporary life in North America.

Solie's most recent book of poetry, Pigeon (2009), won the extremely lucrative 2010 Griffin Poetry Prize, the 2010 Trillium Book Award, and the 2010 Pat Lowther Memorial Award and was in the Globe and Mail's "top 100" list for 2009. The collection is divided into 5 parts or acts, followed by a one-poem postscript. This book also moves through various geographies but explores in particular the complex network of social contradictions to be found in Toronto and other parts of southern Ontario. The first poem of the book concludes with the line, "Speak of the devil, the devil appears," as if to draw attention to the dilemma of creation many of the poems in the book explore.

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