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The Caiplie Caves


Karen Solie

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The Caiplie Caves Download image

ISBN10: 0374602891
ISBN13: 9780374602895

Trade Paperback

144 Pages


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if one asks for a sign
must one accept what’s given?

Ethernan, an Irish missionary in the seventh century, retreated to the Caiplie Caves on the eastern coast of Scotland to consider life as a hermit. In The Caiplie Caves, Karen Solie’s fifth collection of poems, short-listed for the T. S. Eliot Prize, Solie inhabits a figure inspired by Ethernan, a man torn between the communal and the contemplative. His story is remarkable for the mysticism embedded in the ordinary; as Solie writes in her preface, Ethernan is not known for supernatural feats, but "is said to have survived for a very long time on bread and water.”

Interwoven with the voice of this figure are poems whose subjects orbit the physical location of the caves and join the sharply contemporary to the mythic past: the fall of a coal-fired power station; a “druid shouting astrology” outside a liquor store, putting “the Ambien in ambience”; seabirds “frontloaded with military tech”; the dichotomous nature of the stinging nettle.

These are meditations on the crisis of time and change, on class, power, and belief. Above all, these are ambitious and exhilarating poems from one of today’s most gifted poetic voices.


Praise for The Caiplie Caves

"Griffin Poetry Prize winner Karen Solie is a genius for poetic explorations of the sprawling network that is modernity. The poems in this collection sacrifice no lyric in their pursuit of critique, and she freely quotes from Wittgenstein and Benjamin when looking at excruciating beauty and horror alike."—Todd Van Luling, Chicago Review of Books

"Karen Solie is the freshest poetic voice I've encountered in a long while . . . In a literary culture where complication is considered complicit, it’s good to have a poet who delights in taxing the intelligence. Solie operates on a wavelength different from that of any poet I’ve read."—William Logan, The New Criterion

"Karen Solie’s TS Eliot prize-shortlisted The Caiplie Caves is one of the more unusual poetry collections of recent years. It is many things at once: a vision of insular Celtic Christianity in its early medieval heyday; a juxtaposition of this with a more elliptic modern narrative; and a meditation on literary form, and how the modernist long poem might look through a contemporary lens . . . [T]his is a wilfully strange and unforgettable performance."—Aingeal Clare, The Guardian

"The competing instincts, in terrible times, of retreating from the world, or entering it ever more deeply, animate Karen Solie’s exquisite fifth collection."—John Freeman, Lit Hub


Read an Excerpt



Where should we find consolation,

dwelling in the north? Amid the stunted

desperate plant life clinging

to its edges, thriving on atmospheric

vengeance or neglect? Of two moods,


About the author

Karen Solie

Karen Solie was born in Moose Jaw and grew up in southwest Saskatchewan, Canada. She is the author of poetry collections including Short Haul Engine, Pigeon, and The Living Option. Her work has won the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize, the Trillium Book Award for Poetry, the Pat Lowther Award, the Griffin Poetry Prize, the Latner Poetry Prize, and the Canada Council for the Arts Victor Martyn Lynch-Staunton Award. Solie has taught in writing programs and at universities across Canada and in the United Kingdom. An associate director for the Banff Centre's Writing Studio program, she lives in Toronto.

David Seymour

Karen Solie

Learn more about the Author at the Poetry Foundation