Pushcart XLIII: Allison Adair, “The Clearing” (poem) from Southeast Review #35.2

What if this time instead of crumbs the girl drops
teeth, her own, what else does she have, and the prince
or woodcutter or brother or man musty with beard and
thick in the pants collects the teeth with a wide rustic hand…

Complete story available online at Southeast Review

Ok, we’re back to the land of “I have no idea what’s going on”. This poem made me far more uncomfortable than the BBHBB poem, possibly because the meaning was less clear. It seems to be a linkage of fairy tale with primeval misogyny, turning the Brother Grimm into writers for L&O:SVU. Nature itself is against the female: the wolf who “licks his parts with a sandpaper tongue”, and in the final lines:

…how dark birds come
after, to dress the wounds, no, to peck her sockets clean.

That would be social media, blaming the woman for being out after dark, for being drunk, for wearing a short skirt, for flirting at a party, for having a vagina to penetrate in the first place. For ruining a young man’s life by demanding justice.

But it could be a poem about something else entirely, I have no idea.

3 responses to “Pushcart XLIII: Allison Adair, “The Clearing” (poem) from Southeast Review #35.2

  1. I actually think this is one of the better poems I’ve read lately, That said, the line:

    “and just like that we’ve got ourselves a familiar victim.”

    Is a mistake. The tone of the poem, to that point, is quite powerful, but the narrator suddenly withdraws from the story, abruptly, and like a snarky Greek chorus undermines everything that has gone before. I suppose there will be some who argue that this is intentional, but if one intentionally breaks their dinner plate, it’s still broken.

    After that, for instance, she allows herself the more amateurish simile:

    “Undergrowth rattles like the shank/of a loose pen.”

    She could have found a way to breathe the imagery into the poem without the here-is-my-metaphor “like the”.

    In the latter half of the poem she also introduces “we” and “our” — turning the powerful narrative of the poem’s first half into little more than a modern version of the Victorian poem’s finger-wagging morality tale. The poet certainly doesn’t speak for me. I can only assume that the “we” and “our” of the poem refers to the poets’ own pathologies.

    It’s too bad, because if the poet could have just resisted the all too easy Victorian moralizing, she could have written a far more powerful poem. The real lesson is this: The poet’s job is to tell the story, not interpret it. That’s the reader’s job.

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