Poet in the Mirror: Adam Clay
We’re so proud to share some insight into the lives and hearts of today’s poets with our Poet In The Mirror series. This week, Adam Clay—author of the new To Make Room for the Sea (Milkweed Editions, 2020)—shares the joys of his long-term relationship with Milkweed, how he writes through the rough patches, and the amazing fact of community.
On Rejection & Revision
Adam Clay: I’ve been lucky in that this book has been my third collection with Milkweed Editions, and they were enthusiastic about an early version of the collection that I showed them back in 2016 after they published Stranger. I rarely know what a book’s going to be about when I’m writing it—my focus is usually on simply writing one poem at a time (and for a single collection, I might write hundreds of poems—I’d estimate I wrote roughly 300 for this one). When it’s time to put the book together, I sift through the poems I feel are the strongest and begin to see what’s emerging in terms of a theme. I followed this approach with To Make Room for the Sea (as with my previous collections). I might one day work with a cohesive theme or idea in mind before I begin writing, but I prefer to write widely and see where the process takes me.
I usually just write through the rough patches, even if it feels painful or slow. I used to only write when I felt inspired; the upside to that experience was that I felt really excited about the poems I wrote. The downside was that I wrote very little because inspiration arrived rarely. Now I treat writing more like an exercise I develop daily. Even if I write through something that feels drab or uninteresting, it’s still teaching me something about creativity. There might be a line from a failed poem I can use later. And maybe sometimes I have to write a failed poem to get to the next one? As I mentioned above, I like writing a lot towards a project because it allows me to get rid of a lot—there’s a lot of freedom in the act of creation and the act of destruction.
On What a Poet’s Family Finds Surprising
Individuals outside of the writing community are often surprised by how supportive and how tight-knit poets can be. It feels like I know people in every city across the country because of poetry, which is a pretty amazing thing. The idea of community is something that’s become even more important during this time of social distancing when we’ve all had to lean on each other a bit more than usual.
Adam Clay is the author of three collections of poems: Stranger, A Hotel Lobby at the Edge of the World, and The Wash. He is editor of Mississippi Review, a coeditor of Typo Magazine, and a book review editor for Kenyon Review. He teaches in the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi.