USEREVIEW 040 (Capsule): Gold Rush
Gold Rush (Invisible Publishing, 2020)
ISBN 978-1-988784-46-5 | 80 pp | $17.95 CAD
Writing about pioneers and summer camp risks a confrontation with banal, or even dangerous, sentimentalism. However, in her sophomore poetry collection, Gold Rush, Claire Caldwell is circumspect, scrutinizing and assessing her subjects with the critical eye they deserve — and she never mistakes pyrite for gold. See, for instance, her poem ‘After the Gold Rush,’ in which the speaker declares, “We bleached the forest / with headlamps,” with the verb bleach suggesting a critique of both the racism and environmental destruction of colonialism. Far from being a mere easy and backward-gazing finger-wagging at the past, however, Caldwell also turns briskly toward the present. She depicts, for instance, space travel as an exercise that only augments human alienation. The lovelorn speaker of ‘Dear Space Boyfriend’ laments to her titular boyfriend, “I know how hard you’ve worked / to be weightless. It’s just — / shouldn’t microgravity make your heart / pump harder?” Even the future is not exempt, as becomes clear in Caldwell’s ironically titled closing poem, ‘Pastoral,’ which I won’t further spoil for you.
‘Frontier Diaries,’ is a series of eleven graceful ‘erasure poems based on the personal accounts of homesteading women. Though quite minimal, these erasures never feel scanty or forced, and offer surprisingly rich depictions of the lives of homesteaders, from the funny — “beans for years” is the synecdoche one speaker uses to describe her life — to the doubled edge of disappointment, as when another speaker says, “I resign myself to a pale adventure.”