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The Caiplie Caves by Karen Solie

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‘Introducing Karen Solie, I would adapt what Joseph Brodsky said some thirty years ago of the great Les Murray [. . .] – she is the one by whom the language lives’. – Michael Hofmann, LRB

The Canadian Karen Solie is rapidly establishing a reputation as one of the most important poets at work today. Her fifth book of poetry, The Caiplie Caves, is a profound and timely consideration of the nature of crisis: at its heart is the figure of St Ethernan, a seventh-century Irish missionary to Scotland who retreated to the caves of the Fife coast in order to decide whether to establish a priory on May Island or pursue a life of solitude. His decision would have been informed by realities of war, misinformation and power; Solie imagines this crisis also complicated by grief, confusion – and a faith placed under extreme duress.

Woven through Ethernan’s story are poems that orbit the caves’ geographical location, and range through the recurring violences of history and myth, of personal and public record. In poems of the utmost lyric subtlety and argumentative strength, Solie addresses how we might distinguish self-delusion from belief, belief from knowledge – and how, in the frailty of our responses, we can find the courage to move forward.

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