Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The WAR Series: Writers as Readers, with Claire Caldwell

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The WAR Series: Writers as Readers, with Claire Caldwell

Hamilton publisher Wolsak & Wynn has a knack for finding great new poetic voices and Claire Caldwell is an excellent addition to their prestigious list. Her debut, Invasive Species, includes "Osteogenesis", which won The Malahat Review's Long Poem Contest and which includes characters as diverse as a medical school cadaver, a pair of young lovers and the decomposing body of a whale. Claire's vibrant, witty collection has been anticipated for some time, and with good cause.

Today we're happy to have Claire on Open Book: Toronto as part of The WAR Series: Writers As Readers, which gives writers an opportunity to talk about the books that shaped them, from first loves to new favourites.

We hear from Claire about an unhappy ending that stuck with her, the series she can't help but re-read and walking the same hallways as Atwood.

The WAR Series, Writers as Readers

The first book I remember reading on my own:
Have You Seen Josephine by Stéphane Poulin. It’s a picture book about a boy searching his Montreal neighbourhood for his runaway cat, Josephine. I remember reading just “clicking” for me, and for a little while after that, I was disconcerted that I couldn’t take it back. You can’t just turn off the ability to read, once you have it, and the sheer amount of reading material out there (road signs, billboards, labels, headlines…) was overwhelming. Luckily, I got over that!

A book that made me cry:
So many. Often on the subway. Most recently, Panopticon by Jenni Fagan.

The first adult book I read:
John Steinbeck’s The Pearl was one of the first, if not the first, when I was eleven or twelve. I guess it’s a pretty straightforward fable about greed and materialism, but at the time the brutal ending devastated me, even though I’d read many young adult books with not-happy endings.

A book that made me laugh out loud:
Motherland, Fatherland, Homelandsexuals, Patricia Lockwood’s recent poetry collection.

The book I have re-read many times:
Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. My last re-read was a couple years ago, and although it’s a kids’ series, the writing is amazing and the story has so much complexity and emotional depth. Because I’ve read them several times since I was about eleven, these books almost feel like they’re a part of me. Different elements of the books speak to me now than when I was a kid, but revisiting them is also like checking in with my younger selves. It’s a magical experience every time.

A book I feel like I should have read, but haven't:
The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood. Actually, Atwood went to the same high school as I did, and supposedly one of the scenes was set in a gymnasium modelled on our gym. So I really have no excuse.

The book I would give my seventeen year old self, if I could:
I think Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek would have struck a chord with me then. She writes about what it means to be moved by nature, almost on a spiritual level. Having spent years going on wilderness canoe trips with my summer camp, Dillard’s ideas would have resonated strongly with me (not that they don’t now!). And at seventeen, I really could have used an example of a woman embracing, and thinking hard about, a life of writing.

A book I feel strongly influenced me as a writer and why:
The Complete Poems and Plays of T.S. Eliot. I devoured all the poems one afternoon in high school and spent that evening lying on my bed, just aching: I needed to know how someone could create a poem as haunting and exquisite as “Prufrock.” I needed to do that (or at least try!).

The best book I read in the past six months:
I can’t pick just one! How about three? Fiction: Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi. Poetry: Ocean by Sue Goyette. Non-fiction: The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert.

The book I plan on reading next:
It should probably be The Handmaid’s Tale! But next on my pile is Don’t Let It End Like This Tell Them I Said Something, the fifth book of poetry by Paul Vermeersch, who also happens to be my editor at Wolsak and Wynn.

Possible title for my autobiography:
C’est Claire?

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.

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