Monday, April 4, 2011

Modern and Normal

It's National Poetry Month, so every Monday in April I will be reviewing/discussing a book of Canadian poetry.

Modern and Normal is perhaps the least sexy name for a book of poetry ever. Poetry, the form that gave us both the love-lorn sonnet and the scandalous limerick, is often associated with love and sex and romance and fancy language, which perhaps makes the idea of poetry being modern and normal sound like an oxymoron. Let me assure you right now that it is not. 

Solie's second collection of poetry - her third, Pigeon, won the Griffin Poetry Prize last year - is filled with the kind of language we use in our modern, day-to-day lives, but it is so beautifully arranged that to read it is to rediscover an entire side of your vocabulary. And Solie uses that language to expose the strangeness that is our modern world, and the bizarre intrigue of the banal.

Much of this collection focuses, in one way or another, on the tensions that reside around the edges of modern life - we like to go camping, but only if all the amenities are there and the wildlife is under control; we are interested in travelling, especially because of the duty free shops offered at the border.

But Solie is not bleak or heard-hearted about modern life. Her poems are filled with ironic twists and elegant observations about dating, roadside motels, and hunting in the bush. And for Solie, modern life is filled with poetry. Modern and Normal is littered with found poems - snatches of text and conversations plucked verbatim from their source and rendered into amusing and lovely snapshots of life. Of these found poems, my two favourites are taken from an old geometry text book and a list of publications of natural history. Truly, the poetics of everyday life are worth reflecting on, even if they are found in a math problem.

As a collection, Modern and Normal is wonderful. Whether you think you "get" poetry or not, Solie's writing is clear and pleasant, and her metaphors are unusual in a way that aids your understanding rather than complicating it. This is not to say that Solie is a simplistic poet - her verse is varied in style, tone, and language, which makes her poetry really enjoyable to read. Her work inviting, though, and Modern and Normal is a great way to kick off an indulgence in Canadian poetics.

Modern and Normal
by Karen Solie
First published in 2005 (cover image shown from Brick Books edition)

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