I follow a few poets on Twitter, and there Eduardo Corral has mentioned Karen Solie and other Canadian poets. I had never read Karen Solie, so I set out in search of some of her work online. The best examples I could find were published at Poetry International, and the poem text is linked to their site where you can also hear the poet read her work. Take a few moments to read “The Road In Is Not the Same Road Out.”
THE ROAD IN IS NOT THE SAME ROAD OUT
The perspective is unfamiliar.
We hadn’t looked back going in,
and lingered too long
at the viewpoint. It was a prime-of-life
experience. Many things we know
by their effects: void in the rock
that the river may advance, void
in the river that the fish may advance,
helicopter in the canyon
like a fly in a jar, a mote in the eye,
a wandering cause. It grew dark,
a shift change and a shift
in protocol. To the surface of the road
a trail rose, then a path to the surface
of the trail. The desert
sent its loose rock up to see.
An inaudible catastrophic orchestra
is tuning, we feel it in the air
driven before it, as a pressure
on the brain. In the day
separate rays fall so thickly
from their source we cannot perceive
the gaps between them. But night
is absolute, uniform and self-
derived, the formerly irrelevant
brought to bear, the progress
of its native creatures unimpeded.
We have a plan between us, and then
we have our own. Land of the five
corners, the silent partner, 500 dollars
down, no questions, the rental car
stops at the highway intersection, a filthy
violent storm under the hood. It yields
to traffic from both directions.
It appears it could go either way.
I like very much how this poem uses a mix of image and abstraction to create a sense of indecision that is culminated in the end lines. The first four lines provide a recognizable narrative, and the fifth provides commentary that places us not just physically in the narrative and the natural world but also gives us a marker for the mindset or figurative world of the speaker. This happens at several points – darkness is not just a “shift change” but also a “shift in protocol” and darkness is “absolute,” a time when “the formerly irrelevant is brought to bear…”
Other lines hint at emotional unrest – the “inaudible orchestra,” the disparate plans (one “between us” and also “our own”), and the fact that things are only known through their effects, apparent after they have already been set in motion.
In the last seven lines, the images become removed from nature – “the silent partner, 500 dollars down, no questions” – bringing to mind a shady sort of dishonesty. So when the rental car stops, “a filthy violent storm under the hood,” the title resonates in a completely different way (as a moment of emotional crisis or an emotional turning point) than it does at the beginning of the poem where the narrative begins in finding a way out of a hiking trail.
One of the things I took away from this poem was that, although abstraction is used, it is used to pull the poem forward, not as explication or announcing of intent. Sometimes I become fearful of using abstractions in poems – probably too many workshops full of people saying “Image, image, image – but then I find poems like this that marry the two well.
Find one of your drafts that is mostly image and one that is mostly abstraction. See what happens when you try to put them together. If you don’t have two drafts that will work, then create two lists and write a brand new poem!
To read more Karen Solie: