The Caiplie Caves

Farrar. Jul. 2020. 144p. ISBN 9780374117962. $25. POETRY
In her fifth collection, Griffin Prize winner Solie (Pigeon) projects the consciousness of Ethernan, a legendary seventh-century monk who self-exiled to northern Scotland’s Caiplie Caves in the hope that extreme isolation would help him decide whether to found a priory on nearby May Island or become a hermit. Poems conceived in Ethernan’s meditative voice (“if one asks for a sign/ must one accept what’s given?”) alternate with the poet’s own impressions of remote coastal life: its history, myths, and landscape (“sleepless/ fields staring skyward and the firth prowling the forest of itself,/ what’s hidden as well as/ what hides it”). Drawing deeply from a broad array of historical accounts, philosophical works, and religious texts, Solie shapes an abstract geography of mind and spirit to the contours of physical space, where the smallest feature might assume metaphysical significance: “lichen’s vow is to embody the composition of the universe/ less meaning than a way for meaning to emerge.”
VERDICT While this moodily erudite exploration of solitude exudes a timeless aura, most individual poems rarely transcend a claustrophobic flatness of expression, diluting “the nervous power of life” that potentially resides within their subjects. [See “Versifying,” LJ 1/17/20.]
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