In the seventh century, on the coast of Fife, Scotland, an Irish missionary named Ethernan withdrew to a cave in order to decide whether to establish a priory on May Island, directly opposite, in the Firth of Forth, or pursue a hermit’s solitude. His decision would have been informed by the realities of war, religious colonization, and ideas of progress, power, and corruption, and complicated by personal interest, grief, confusion, and a faith (religious and secular) under extreme duress. His choice between life as an “active” or a “contemplative” was one between public and private action. Along with the question of what constitutes action, it remains a choice central to political and private life.
Karen Solie’s fifth book of poetry, The Caiplie Caves, attends to transition in times of crisis. Around passages informed by Ethernan’s story are poems that orbit the geographical location of the caves but that range through the ages, addressing violence, power, work, economies, self-delusion, and belief. Indecision and necessity are inseparable companions. As are the prospect of error and regret.
KAREN SOLIE is the author of four previous collections of poetry. Short Haul Engine won the BC Book Prize Dorothy Livesay Award and was shortlisted for the Griffin Prize. Modern and Normal was shortlisted for the Trillium Poetry Prize. Pigeon won the Pat Lowther Award, the Trillium Poetry Prize, and the Griffin Prize. The Road In Is Not The Same Road Out was shortlisted for the Trillium Book Award. A volume of selected poems, The Living Option, published in the U.K., is a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. An associate director for the Banff Centre's Writing Studio program, she edits and teaches and has served as writer-in-residence for universities across Canada and in Scotland. She lives in Toronto.