From the Klondike to an all-girls summer camp to the frontier of outer space, Gold Rush explores what it means to be a settler woman in the wilderness. Drawing on and subverting portrayals of nature from Susanna Moodie to Cheryl Strayed, Caldwell’s poems examine the tension between the violence and empowerment women have often sought and found in wild places; this is the violence young girls inflict on each other; colonial violence perpetrated by white, settler women; violence against nature itself. Many of these poems portray a climate in crisis, suggesting that even wilderness buffs are complicit in climate change. Whether they’re trekking the Chilkoot Trail, exploring the frontiers of their own bodies and desires, or navigating an unstable, unfamiliar climate, the girls and women in these poems are pioneers—in all the complexities contained by the term.
A salute to Neil Young’s enduring prophecy, “mother nature on the run,” but it’s scarier now—it’s not the 1970s. Claire Caldwell is an environmental doomsayer, but she’s also a comedic, antic storyteller, and she’s great at dark endings. Wilderness women are her storytellers; they speak with the melancholy of country music. “One day, I vanished,” says one. Another says, “To wear the moon like a breast.” From actresses fording a river: “Applause had softened us.” Nothing soft about these poems. — John Irving
Claire Caldwell’s second collection starts with a mammoth shinbone, stored in her parents’ garage. And it gets weirder and more ordinary from there, from the erasure poem Caldwell created from the diaries of homesteading women, full of longing and disconnection, to the epic anti-nature poem “How to See Moose.” Caldwell reminds us, magically, savagely, that we have celestial bodies but, also, that we are all meat. My only response? “Oh, yes, this.” — Ariel Gordon