Poetry in Motion: "Nature's overthrow of the ego" - Claire Caldwell and Invasive Species

February 9, 2015

Claire Caldwell's poetry is said to "pulverize", to tease; a "vivid assault on the senses". Read more about her debut collection, Invasive Species, and hear her read from it, in this edition of Poetry in Motion. 

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Poetry in Motion: Claire Caldwell, Invasive Species

Claire Caldwell’s debut collection, Invasive Species, was much anticipated by the literary community, making both Kerry Clare’s (The 49th Shelf) and Evan Munday’s (All Lit Up) Fall 2014 Preview lists, and being named one of the top 20 books of 2014 by the National Post. Listening to her read some of the collection’s finely wrought poems, it’s not hard to understand why. This is a collection that “confronts the reader with a thoughtful, vivid assault on the senses” (Kevin Connolly), “building the tension and emotion in a poem up to a pulverizing finish” (Mark Sampson). In short, this is poetry at its best.

One has only to read the opening lines of the title poem to understand the forces at play in this collection, and to experience Caldwell’s deft handling of the juxtaposition between nature’s unruliness and the controlled orderliness of civilization:

                                    Once, we built towns on water park economies.

                                    Slides reared up like dinosaurs, pale plastic beasts

                                    engineered to outlast our kids.

And later:

                                    Cougars insinuated themselves

                                    into major cities, scaling condos

                                    like cliffsides.




Everywhere in this collection, the natural and the man-made worlds collide, and despite “nature’s overthrow of the ego in poem after poem” (Jennifer L. Knox), what Caldwell depicts is the often irreversible damage we humans do to the environment – and in the end, to ourselves.

Stylistically, Caldwell’s language and imagery extends the juxtaposition, striking a tenuous balance between stark exactitude and lyric musicality. Reviewer Michael Dennis writes, “Caldwell plays with our imagination like…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.”

The closing poem of the collection, " Osteogenesis", won The Malahat Review’s Long Poem prize in 2013. It intertwines the stories of an earnest young medical student studying a cadaver, a pair of young lovers living with the student, and a blue whale decomposing at the bottom of the sea.

Claire Caldwell reads from Invasive Species from Claire Caldwell on Vimeo.


Claire Caldwell completed her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Guelph and now works as an editor and poet in Toronto. Her work has appeared in Maisonneuve, Prism International, This Magazine, The Malahat Review, and other journals and magazines. Invasive Species is her first collection, published by Buckrider Books, an imprint of Wolsak & Wynn, in fall 2014.


Many thanks to Wolsak & Wynn, especially Emily Dockrill Jones, for sharing Invasive Species with us.


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