Contributors’ Marginalia: Charlie Clark on Tory Adkisson’s “Winter in Paradise”

June 18, 2012

Paradise is an invention, an act of imagination. Paradise is a place that the mind creates, that gets thought into being, an idea built out of memory and anticipation. The paradise in Tory Adkisson’s poem, “Winter in Paradise ,” is a curious paradise. It is a one that projects a sense of diminishment and struggle while still remaining, unquestionably, paradise.

Garden of Paradise, Workshop of Hieronymus Bosch

The poem’s gorgeous and precise opening sentence is an act of creation through utterance (in the beginning there was the word?): “Snow falls half as bright / as it did when we were // young.” (It seems to me a sort of enactment or illustration of the opening line of Robert Hass’ “Meditations at Lagunitas: “All the new thinking is about loss.”) And yet, even the voice building this paradise laments as it unveils. And unveiling is a good way to think about how this poem proceeds. Or accretion. The universe of this poem gets built sentence by sentence, image by image. The couplets allow the reader to savor each new portion of paradise that gets unveiled. The snow, then the conifers, then the flies. Then the wonderfully tactile fact of the owls that “rest heavy in the hand.” Each thing given its own sentence. Each added to the other until the aggregation of the poem’s world is revealed. Each part imbued with something that isn’t quite sorrow, but has a quality of sorrow. The conifers (punnily) “pine.” The flies do “freeze.” So there is longing, and there is death. These descriptions amount to a kind of commentary, but a subtle commentary, that proceeds naturally from the act of looking (or imagining).

So it is an imperfect place, this paradise. An imperfect paradise? Yes. Of course. Because what would the good of perfection be? In perfection there is an absence of hope, and this poem hinges, subtly, on hope. Winter being the hope for spring. After the voice of the poem (“voice” seems more appropriate than speaker, somehow; maybe because the whole thing feels so close to singing) has unveiled paradise, giving a sort of guided tour through paradise’s snow, trees, owls, apples, and “a cave / with the many names // we gave the earth,” the poem ends with a kind of offering. Much like the opening sentence, the phrasing of the final sentence impresses with its flourish and precision. The “we” of the opening is back again, this time burning chopped-down trees in the “hope the fire carries us / until we see the sun again.” Even in paradise it is necessary to chop and burn what one can merely in order to survive.

Charlie Clark

Charlie Clark’s poems have appeared in Blackbird, Laurel Review, Smartish Pace, and Best New Poets 2011. He studied poetry at the University of Maryland and lives in Austin, Texas. His poem, “Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” appears with Tory Adkisson’s “Winter in Paradise” in 32 Poems 10.1.


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