To Make Room for the Sea

Milkweed Editions, 2020
$16.00, ISBN: 978-1571314635, paperback, 88 pages

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To Make Room for the Sea reckons with the notion that nothing in this world is permanent. Led by an introspective speaker, these poems examine a landscape that resists full focus, and conclude that “it’s easier to love what we don’t know.”

“I hold this leaf I think / you should see, but I can’t quite / say why,” Adam Clay writes, as he navigates a variety of both personal and ecological fixations: disembodied bullfrog croaks, the growth of his child, a computer’s dreaded blue screen of death. The observations in To Make Room for the Sea convey both grief for the Anthropocene and hope for the future. The poems read like field notes from someone who knows the world and hopes to know it differently.

On the precipice of great change and restructured perspective, Clay’s poems linger in “the second between taking in a vision and processing it,” in the moment when the world is less a familiar system and more a palette of colors and potential.

To Make Room for the Sea delights as much as it mourns. It looks forward as much as it reflects. Deft and hopeful, the poems in this collection gently encourage us to take another look at a world “only some strange god might have thought up / in a drunken stumble.”


"[An] accomplished, formally dexterous collection . . . discovering hope and fulfillment in the intricacies of human connection." ―Publishers Weekly

“With its soaring phrasings, its exquisite collage of major and minor, and its potent imagery of the painter and the painted, Adam Clay's To Make Room For the Sea recalls Joni Mitchell at her most enduring. Time and chance reorganize our lives and selves; Clay's new collection responds with shock and smarts and tenderness and a continuous commitment to dwelling in the space of unknowing. From the hushed and simmering to the nearly operatic, these poems burn bright as the cardinal that 'looked / nuclear at a distance.' They refuse to turn away from the totalizing responsibility we have toward one another: how it undoes us, how it saves us, how it goes on.”
―Natalie Shapero

“In Adam Clay’s achingly beautiful new collection, To Make Room for the Sea, love is also and always a story that changes as inevitably as seasons. Within these meditative lyrics, silence never searches for an answer but a mind does, and each poem feels like ‘a prayer for the oldest worlds within us.’ Stretched between grief and praise, Clay studies trees, parenthood, the sky, the moments that make loneliness new. These poems remind me that no matter the losses we face, we hold on because, like blossoms, our survival depends on it.”
―Traci Brimhall

“In a time of uncertainty and upheaval, both personal and collective, ‘Life mostly feels like walking the line / between an elegy and an ode’―and the poems in To Make Room for the Sea walk that line, too, between searching and wise, melancholy and hopeful. Perhaps the most seductive part of the book is the questions the poems ask: ‘What replaces the irreplaceable?’ ‘What can be taken back?’ ‘How willful must one / be to stop the body from enacting / the mind?’ And that’s the magic of this book―the way Adam Clay, line after line, enacts the mind on the page.”
―Maggie Smith

"To Make Room for the Sea is an exhibition of what the meditative poem is and what it can do. And Adam Clay wants us to know that one of the things it can indeed do is 'Marvel at what the body will do / To survive.' I am most taken by how many times this book risks making use of the word 'hope,' and at how each poem that does so earns it every time. This is a beautiful book of persistence, of fatherhood, of romance, of heartbreak, of the American South and what its history can mean for those who leave it and return, and yes, this is a book about faith."
―Jericho Brown


Milkweed Editions, 2016
$16.00, ISBN: 978-1571314635, paperback, 96 pages

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Stranger is a book of both great change and deep roots, of the most rich elements of the earth and the instability of a darkening sky. The third collection by Adam Clay dives into a dynamic world where the only map available is “not of the world / but of the path I took to arrive in this place, / a map with no real definable future purpose." Tracing a period of great change in his life—a move, a new job, the birth of his first child—Clay navigates the world with elegance and wonder, staring into the heart of transition and finding in it the wisdom that “Despite our best efforts to will it shut, / the proof of the world's existence / can best be seen in its insistence, / in its opening up." By firmly grasping on to the present, the past and the future collapse into the lived moment, allowing for an unclouded view of a way forward.


“With each deliberate, rigorous, and perfect line, Stranger works itself into a heartbreakingly stunning collection dedicated to the unsung suspension of time that occurs when life suddenly goes awry.”
—Ada Limón

“I’ve always thought the body to be a kind of mind and in these poems, precise lyrics detailing the most ordinary times, Adam Clay seems—or maybe it only seems he seems—to agree. In those moments when one rearranges the furniture in a room or leaves the cast-iron skillet in the oven or contemplates an ink stain on the wall, Clay finds a space for deep inquiry.”
—Kazim Ali

“If you’re the type who can’t stomach small talk, Adam Clay’s Stranger makes for terrific company. Refusing to placate or console his reader, Clay proves himself one of our most challenging and brilliant poets.”
 —Cate Marvin





A Hotel Lobby at the Edge of the World

Milkweed Editions, 2012
$16.00, ISBN: 978-1-57131-441-3, paperback, 96 pages

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The distilled, haunting, and subtly complex poems in Adam Clay’s A Hotel Lobby at the Edge of the World often arrive at that moment when solitude slips into separation, when a person suddenly realizes he can barely see the place he set out from however long ago. He now sees he must find his connection back to the present, socially entangled world in which he lives. For Clay, reverie can be a siren’s song, luring him to that space in which prisoners will begin “to interrogate themselves.”

Clay pays attention to the poet’s return to the world of his daily life, tracking the subtly shifting tenors of thought that occur as the landscape around him changes. Clay is fully aware of the difficulties of Thoreau’s “border life,” and his poems live somewhere between those of James Wright and John Ashbery: they seek wholeness, all the while acknowledging that “a fragment is as complete as thought can be.” In the end, what we encounter most in these poems is a generous gentleness—an attention to the world so careful it’s as if the mind is “washing each grain of sand.”


“One of the best young American poets writing today, Adam Clay engages fully with the natural world, gracefully dredging up the mysteries embedded in modern life—paper dolls clipped from the morning news, the ringing ears of lightning-strike victims—and bringing ‘the patient sadness that will outwait the memory of a spark’ to life in precise swirls of language. Each poem shimmers with physical and metaphysical insight, and Clay’s endless storms and seasons resonate with wisdom and music. This is a brilliant collection of poems.”
—Alex Lemon

“These poems are sentient and surprising as only living things can be, intimate and compelling precisely because they don’t aim to please, but to exist. In his own words, reading this book is like ‘centering yourself along unrecorded boundaries’ that Clay has somehow managed to discern for us and translate into poems that are in turns clear and strange, and always warmly memorable.”
—Bob Hicok

“These poems hover in and out of dreams, follow the mind’s wild wanderings, interrogate language, reveal the heart’s ambitions, all the while remaining brilliantly anchored to the physicality of all things earthbound. This is a book that lives as much in the curious mind as it does in the undeniable weather of the real world, and Clay travels expertly between the two with a gentle, inspired grace.”
—Ada Limón

“Adam Clay locates the poetic realm at the very limit of what is known, a hotel teetering on the flat world’s precipice, where every visitor is temporary. Not only does one hear Dickinson whisper, ‘My Business is Circumference,’ Clay arrives also with a Whitmanesque capacity for affirmation, ‘The lyrical quality of a weed.’ His poems sing themselves through their own complications, searching for that beautiful order language has no part of, but only language can reveal. ‘May I for a moment be nervous?’ the poet asks. The answer in the poems themselves is their wondrous nerve.”
—Dan Beachy-Quick

“Immediately striking about the poems in Clay’s second book is their lack of self-consciousness. . . This poet locates himself at the borders between nature and language, solitude and community, the physical and metaphysical where paradox and fragmentation are at once evaded and embraced.”
Publishers Weekly


The Wash

2006, Free Verse Editions

$12.00, ISBN: 978-1932559996, paperback, 84 pages

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Rich in river imagery and an intense sense of the passage of time, The Wash explores the incessant music that permeates journeys with a destination unknown. Interweaving the voices of John Clare, Audubon, Roethke, and others, the poems depict a landscape of loss in which language and images provide the only concrete platform on which to stand. Ending with an elegy for the self-portrait and an acceptance of the inevitability of decay, the speaker discovers “the stillness of frames both comforts and terrifies." Playing a lyrical voice against the limits of silence, The Wash uncovers the voices that can be made, and heard, in and out of nature.


The Wash offers a dual-tone voice that reaches for wisdom and doubt at once. The result is a collection of poems both funny and discomforting, but above all, genuine. Adam Clay makes a songbird from the smallest moments and it’s a pleasure to hear his song."
—Maurice Manning

“These anachronistic poems are small as prayers but without the posturing. Like John Clare on the long walk home from the asylum, their speaker suffers not from attention deficit but from its surplus, pierced by memory, Nature, Oblivion and the Giant Forms in which “the shadows of fish / live as the fish do.” A Romantic without heroism, a naturalist who knows himself excluded from Nature’s mirror, he goes split from himself, reeling through the tautology of a world without end. This ‘Clock a Clay’ observes with a Clare-ity that includes pleasure, dismay and eroticism, how “a rock / turn[s] black with the memory of my face,” but just “[a]sk and I will be your cuckoo for two hundred years.” Clay’s is an un-Enclosed speaker moving optimistically toward catastrophe: “The window was so clean / I walked into it, hoping for a headfull of sky.”
—Joyelle McSweeney

“On every page of The Wash , Adam Clay discovers new kinds of eloquence, elegance, excitement, and inward experience from which a language springs that can flow forward through present space (wherever we are now) and backward (often to old England), then downward into the still reaches of the heart where the waters give us our own faces back. . . . This book is an eyeful and an earful. It teems with originality. "
—Michael Heffernan