Winner of the 2020 Max Ritvo Poetry Prize, The Clearing is “a lush, lyrical book about a world where women are meant to carry things to safety and men leave decisively” (Henri Cole).
Luminous and electric from the first line to the last, Allison Adair’s debut collection navigates the ever-shifting poles of violence and vulnerability with a singular incisiveness and a rich imagination. The women in these poems live in places that have been excavated for gold and precious ores, and they understand the nature of being hollowed out. From the midst of the Civil War to our current era, Adair charts fairy tales that are painfully familiar, never forgetting that violence is often accompanied by tenderness. Here we wonder, “What if this time instead of crumbs the girl drops / teeth, her own, what else does she have”?
The Clearing knows the dirt beneath our nails, both alone and as a country, and pries it gently loose until we remember something of who we are, “from before…from a similar injury or kiss.”
There is a dark beauty in this work, and Adair is a skilled stenographer of the silences around which we orbit. Described by Henri Cole as “haunting and dirt caked,” her unromantic poems of girlhood, nature, and family linger with an uncommon, unsettling resonance.
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Praise and Prizes
“Adair considers in her imaginative debut the intersection of human and animal life, closely examining the experience of womanhood . . . Like Grimms’ fairy tales, Adair’s poems are dark without being bleak, hopeless, or disturbing. Readers will find the collection’s lush language and provocative imagery powerfully resonant.”
“Astonishing and luminous . . . [The Clearing] is an alchemical feat, turning horror into beauty as Adair reveals what surges beneath — the violence, want, grief, thrill, and nameless fury.”
“The opening poem in the collection feels like a fable and nightmare; a scene out of time. 'We’ll write this story again and again, // how her mouth blooms to its raw venous throat—that tunnel / of marbled wetness, beefy, muted, new, pillow for our star // sapphire, our sluggish prospecting—and how dark birds come / after, to dress the wounds, no, to peck her sockets clean.' We leave the poem a little scared, a little curious, and certainly more aware: The Clearing meditates on what is asked of women, and what is taken from them.”
“Juxtaposing somber images from the natural world (a runt rabbit, a strangled swan, a floor of dead birds, a landscape made of a woman’s hair) against seemingly more durable material like bones, chicken wire, rifles, and coins, Adair’s poems take as their central subject emotional and physical violence against women, which in this collection distorts all of life’s natural processes. Many of the poems are masterful.”
“A dark and bodily nod to folk- and fairy-tale energy.”
“[E]lectric, brilliant with loss and searching . . . As we read, we are on a journey into the woods with strangers, and The Clearing’s poems capture the beauty and terror of sudden, new site-lines.”
“The Clearing is a lush, lyrical book about a world where women are meant to carry things to safety and men leave decisively. Out of dry farming soil come these wise, mineral-like poems about young motherhood, mining disasters, miscarriages, memory, and much more. Allison Adair's poems are haunting and dirt caked, but there is also a tense beauty everywhere. I found The Clearing devastating.”
“‘What if this time instead of crumbs the girl drops / teeth, her own, what else does she have…’ So begins Allison Adair’s The Clearing, the title poem leading us, tooth by tooth, line by line, into this dark forest of a book. Adair’s phrases are spell-like, their ingredients mixed in surprising, potent ways: ‘the fat matter of memory,’ a caterpillar’s ‘sad accordion hymn,’ the ‘Gregorian green singing grass.’ I would follow this poet wherever her mind goes—even into the deepest woods, into memories of grief and loss—and I would trust her words to lead me out again.”
“Adair dives into motherhood, history, and the now to find the currents—loss, violence, yearning—that keep us afloat, that shipwreck us. Her gaze is clear-eyed, precise, and jarring: ‘The dog’s staph-eaten paw / soaking in a Cool Whip bowl’ and ‘the caterpillar inches along, lost / in its sad accordion hymn.’ Her lyricism is astonishing and her attentiveness to sound dazzles: antlers rub against apple bark, bats drown, and music is struck from anvils. Adair’s sensory-rich language doesn’t reconfigure pain into beauty, though. It does something harder—it forces us to contend with the light and the dark inside each of us.”
"Allison Adair’s poems chart the measureless ways that trauma is born of violence and loss while reminding us that tenderness and mercy are descendants of grief. Wise, rapturous, and thicketed with hair-raising imagery, the women in this collection wade through landscapes teeming with wolves and real-life danger surreal enough to be remembered, rendered as fable: 'I tell it as if there were grace- / full streetlamps craning toward us, as if nostalgia drips like a willow / from my mouth.' This effect—this devastatingly beautiful book—lingers off the page. It illuminates itself in the moment and at unexpected hours. The Clearing is an extraordinary debut."
“In Adair’s stunning debut collection, the verbs are vivid; the metaphors imagistic; the topics ranging through small town secrets, parenthood and childhood, physical love, violence and tragedy. These bold poems are imbued with the grittiness of landscape, biology, geology, and anchored by the recurring motif of searching below the surface like metal detectors or mines for things like fossils and rot, yes, but also veins of gold and memories.”