Reduce and Be Reduced to a Pest in Karen Solie’s “Pest Song”

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“A pest is a plant or animal detrimental to humans or human concerns (as agriculture or livestock production); alternative meanings include organisms that cause nuisance and epidemic disease associated with high mortality (specifically: plague). In its broadest sense, a pest is a competitor of humanity.”

[1]

Can a poem be science fiction? If so, I’d like to explore the idea that Karen Solie’s poem “Pest Song” about a futuristic lonely homebound speaker and a pest that begins to invade the home reflects our 21st century fears and the alienation inherent of post-modern living. In Karen Solie’s poem “Pest Song,” the speaker’s only relationship is between a homeowner and a pest. Although the speaker’s physical shape remains ambiguous (is it[2] really a pest or a scorned lover?), one thing is certain: it feeds on the one it loves and lurks in its shadows, waiting until the very end of the poem when it’s “fast asleep before kissing [it] goodnight.” Throughout her poem, Solie interpolates the reader into the narrative. It is ‘us’ who has drawn the speaker in, it is us who has enthralled the pest.

So then, who are ‘we’? If we are drawing in a creature detrimental to humans, then what does that say about us? We, humans, who “leave the milk out at night, bread box open / and grains untied” lure the blight into our home and into loving us in an act of seduction: “I could tell by [your habits, these forgetful actions] that you are passionate / and I was smitten.” Our enticement is, at first, unconscious, for it “lived with [us] for months / / before [we] knew [it] was alive.” The fact that we, the reader, are seductive is the result of our humanity, our inclination to tempt and attract, as well as our desire to be loved. Even our unconscious actions expose certain hidden desires: the primary one being our desire to be loved and noticed. Does this mean that leaving milk out at night could be interpreted as wanting someone to notice the little time we spend thinking about such minor daily deeds? Obviously not. But this forgetfulness does demonstrate that our thoughts are elsewhere and, if not focused on the happenings in our home, then external events or people that are more interesting to our psyche.

So we are a seducer and, as any good philanderer would, we try to destroy any signs of attachment: “I cried out one night when you walked / through the door, and the set of your mouth / was a new kind of poison.” This ‘speaker-as-pest’ is in love with us, completely captivated, and we must put an end to its joy –knowing that if one of them could love us, then so could all the rest. Here is where the paradox lies: we[3] seek connectedness and love, yet fear being loved and therefore push away all bourgeoning signs of it.

How then, does the speaker (“I”) differ from us? When we return home, the speaker, “[f]orgetting the wisdom / / of [its] kind” cries out for us. This different ‘kind’ is one who loves so passionately that they have become a nuisance, a devoted follower who will “rest on your pillow, lick your soap, / / embrace your toothbrush while you’re gone.” This may all appear somewhat nauseating to imagine, yet the speaker is aware of the insanity of its actions. It has forgotten “the wisdom” of likeminded infatuated lovers, and has reduced itself to an insect-like existence as it encroaches on every aspect of its seducer’s intimate life: it is there in our sleep (“on your pillow”), when we are entirely exposed in the shower (“lick your soap”), in our mouth and consequently close to our voice (“embrace your toothbrush”). It even touches us as we sleep, kissing us goodnight as we lie completely vulnerable and unaware. This speaker is clever. It knows of our paradox and that is why it believes that we’d miss it, “not know why, […] the grace notes of my feet,” and why it keeps its “hunger wrapped up tight” emerging only late at night.

The speaker has been reduced to that low, degrading status of pest. What have we done, as readers, to deserve such a song? Our task is to read –accept and love the work and labour that has been handed to us- and then we, consciously or unconsciously, form an opinion based on our emotional response. The speaker, this insect-like creature who has infected us by its very presence, wants our love, even counts on it for survival. We are becoming more learnèd, more cultivated…. We are not as easy to please, the more we read. The speaker marks its territory, whether we want it to or not. “Pest Song” is not simply about a person whose home has been infected by one singular, supernatural pest. It is more about the relationships we engage in and the roles we take on as lovers and as readers. In romantic relations, we may vacillate between love-struck pest and seducer. As a recipient of Solie’s poetry, our role is chosen for us and we are forced to witness our power. “Your habits drew me,” states the first line. We did not just allure the speaker to us, we also drew it into existence, thus is the power of the reader.

[1] Most exact Google definition.

[2] Now and again, I will be referring to “it” when I mention the speaker. It possesses simultaneous pest-like and human attributes and therefore, while the pest remains polysemous, it must inevitably be an ‘it.’

[3] ‘We’ and ‘us’ (for lack of better terminology) signify the reader and the “you” throughout the poem.

By | 2018-01-07T15:01:55-04:00 October 5th, 2016|Essay 2, Sophie|0 Comments

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