16 December 2014

on rereading: Short Haul Engine

I'm rereading Karen Solie right now, beginning with her first collection, Short Haul Engine. I realized that it's been a long time since I picked up her first book. I'm often returning to her third book, Pigeon, but cannot recall the last time I revisited her first, the one that made me fall in love with her work. (I was going to write her most recent, but I see that she has another forthcoming. Very exciting!)

I've reread more this year than any year before, and one thing that keeps surprising me, which really it shouldn't by now, is how little I remember from previous reads. Rereading Solie is no different.

There's lot to love in Short Haul Engine. It's an accomplished first collection, but like most first collections there is a rawness. It's a little messy, not at all self-conscious. I like that the edges haven't been all polished down.

I had forgotten that Solie once lived in Victoria, the city I now call home. I think of her as a Toronto poet from Saskatchewan, and I'm curious how long she lived here. There is a great poem in Short Haul Engine called "East Window, Victoria" about the longing for a real Prairie winter while living on the West Coast, where "Everything about the place/ demands affection." It was the second stanza that compelled me to read the poem to my husband last night:
In Edmonton, they are cursing
ancestors and old Volkswagens, shovelling
themselves into cardiac events.
In Churchill,
snow is an animal.

When I finished the poem, my husband said it was like the poem had been written for me. Here I am, living in what many consider paradise, but part of me longs for Edmonton, especially the winters. I know that I've romanticized our time there--my anger at the cold, long winters, the predatory johns, the crack-dealing neighbour have all softened. I loved all the free outdoor skating and I know I'd have become a cross country skier if we'd stayed.

Here, it's beautiful. Here it's always lush, even in the middle of December. Today, not only did I see robins, but also hummingbirds. It smelled of mud and new life. It felt like April. As Solie wrote, "So much evergreen. So much/ a constant."

The penultimate stanza sums up my longing, my strange allegiance perfectly:
But how dare you long
for those first mornings of frost
you bit into like an apple, the winters
skating an unbroken line
around your small clean body.

I do feel grateful to Solie for writing "East Window, Victoria" a poem I don't remember reading the first time, but now, where I am in my life both physically and emotionally, is the perfect poem for me. I suppose that's how all good literature works, but it seems especially true for poetry, that its meaning shifts as time does, as people do.

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