Rooted in the Yukon

Toronto-based poet Claire Caldwell’s role as writer-in-residence at the Berton House in

Dawson City ends this month.

Caldwell is no stranger to the Yukon. She lived in Whitehorse from ages three to nine.

These years had a deep impact on Caldwell. That’s where she found her fascination for nature and the outdoors, she says.

“Certain moments stand out, like seeing bear cubs and Dall sheep along the highway, or waking up to a room bathed in the glow of the northern lights.

“But the everyday things, like playing on the clay cliffs or spending hours in the forest behind our house or watching the sunrise from my classroom window in November – those had a deep impact on me as well.”

As well as giving her an early appreciation of nature, the Yukon gave Caldwell an understanding of the power of words and stories. Things that stick out are “experiences like attending the Yukon International Storytelling Festival and having the privilege to hear stories told by members of Kwanlin Dün,” she says. 

She also took family road trips to Dawson during that time. Caldwell remembers losing her first tooth at Klondike Kate’s.

Many of the poems in her debut collection Invasive Species are set in the North, like “November” and “Bear Safety”. They will resonate with readers familiar with the northern atmosphere.

The poet continues to draw inspiration from her fascination with nature and the outdoors. “At the moment I am working primarily on my next book of poetry, which focuses on environmental themes and the ways in which humans come into contact with the natural world,” Caldwell says.

What inspires her to write?

“Spending time outside, talking to other writers or researching a story about animals and their inner lives, and reading, reading, reading,” Caldwell says.

She adds that she always knew that she wanted to make art.

“I did that in a lot of ways when I was younger, from visual art to writing stories to singing and learning to play instruments,” Caldwell says. “I think I took every arts class my high school offered. But at a certain point, I found I could better express and refine my ideas in poems than in other forms, so I decided to focus on that.”

Caldwell writes prose, too. She is currently working on a novel.

“It is a story for young readers about a climate disaster at a summer camp.”

Furthermore she holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph. Her work has been published in such journals like This Magazine and Maisonneuve. She also teaches a rap-poetry workshop for children.

Caldwell will do a reading at the Whitehorse Library on Thursday, September 29.

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