Saturday, December 13, 2014

Invasive Species - Claire Caldwell (A Buckrider Book/Wolsak & Wynn)

Today's book of poetry:
Invasive Species.  Claire Caldwell.  A Buckrider Book/Wolsak & Wynn.  Hamilton, Ontario.  2014.

Invasive Species by Claire Caldwell ends with a long poem, "Osteogenesis", which won the Malahat Review's 2013 Long Poem Competition.  Osteogenesis is a noun meaning "the formation of bone",

The poems is a spectacular mental movie about how whales can explode, the speed of a carcass as it sinks to the ocean floor, a trip to a Portuguese grocery store and the specifics of an adult skull.

Odd, if you say so, but almost musical with wit.  Caldwell plays with our imagination like a puppet-master, or a cat with a mouse.

This is careful, precise poetry that rolls on the page as if it were being riffed on the spot, live and mercurial.

Here is Caldwell's take on bears:

from:  Bear Safety

Bears could be anywhere

On the subway at rush hour.
Between couch cushions.
In the drawer with dull pencils
and batteries and nothing
you need. In the eavestrough.
On a soccer field
during a lightning storm.
In the pocket of your dirty jeans,
your unlaced sneakers.
Run a hand under the sheets
before bedtime. Bears prefer to sleep
on Egyptian cotton.
They can usually tell if it's cheap.


"Bear Safety" strolls onward for several more small poems.  Each as lovely and lively as the last.

Every poem in this marvelous collection got a response out of my tired-assed psyche.

Caldwell is an articulate carny, drawing you nearer to the game and never giving away a thing.

Natalie Olsen designed this book and we here at Today's book of poetry want to doff our hats in her direction.  The very clever cover is more than amusing, it is almost perfect.

from:  Invasive Species

Once, we built towns on water park economies.
Slides reared up like dinosaurs, pale plastic beasts
engineered to outlast our kids.

Landlocked, it was still possible
to scorn the jellyfish, fringed curtains
drawn across distant coasts


Claire Caldwell's first book of poems promises great things.

Passed this around the office and asked "who does this remind you of?"  The answers were quick and varied, "Sue Goyette", screamed a typist, "Julie Bruck", moaned an intern, I chimed in with "Stuart Ross".  The best answer was "no one -- I haven't read anything like this!"

Just Give Me One Thing


Above the alley, we'd strung our laundry up
like prayer flags. I watched as the wind
nudged your jean shorts and my orange
halter. You fussed with a can of tuna.

It had been a good month. Sandal weather,
and no one asked about your missing toe.
We never burned our English muffins.
We traded spots at the counter,
the sink, rarely touching.

Still, the flies gathered. Bluebottles
slurring circles around the trash can.
I set vinegar traps and dreamt of buzzing.
You remembered your father, the smell
of him, how you couldn't eat for weeks.

"It's something we all have to face eventually,"
you said, as I bent to tie up the garbage,
Maggots sprayed across the kitchen like champagne.


Caldwell surprised me like Cassius Clay/Muhammed Ali surprised the sad Sonny Listen.

Knocked him out.

Claire Caldwell
(Photo by Stephen Spence Davis)

Claire Caldwell is a poet and editor living in Toronto. She was the 2013 winner of the Malahat Review's Long Poem Prize, and her work has appeared in many magazines and journals, including Maisonneuve and Prism International. Claire holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph.

“Hamilton publisher Wolsak & Wynn has a knack for finding great new poetic voices and Claire Caldwell is an excellent addition to their prestigious list….Claire’s vibrant, witty collection has been anticipated for some time, and with good cause.”
     Grace O'Connell

"Claire Caldwell's poems are like sleeper cells parked in the fraught organism that is middle-class North America.  From its unvarnished assessment of the cost of Timothy Treadwell's hubris to its measured empathy for the largest mammals on the planet, Invasive Species confronts the reader with a thoughtful, vivid assault on the senses.  For Caldwell the lure of the natural -- and the fascination of the civilized -- is coloured by an awareness that we are simultaneously part of, and apart from, the living things around us.  This is a carefully worked, entirely welcome debut from a precociously wise new voice."
     Kevin Connolly, author of Drift and Revolver

Claire Caldwell read from Invasive Species


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