Claycover MAP
Courtesy of Clay AD and Pilot Press, London

When reading a book it’s hard to disconnect from the idea of consecutive time as, more often than not, you read it from beginning to end, from cover to cover. Holy Bodies by Clay AD, published by Pilot Press this July, deftly manages to evade this. As a reader you feel the past, the present and the future happening all at once as the writing swirls within the book.

Holy Bodies is AD’s first book of poetry, following a novel, Metabolise, if able, first published with Monster House Press in 2018. Some of the texts within Holy Bodies span over a 10 year period, giving rise to the different energies throughout and as such it becomes difficult to pin the book down. Holy Bodies shifts through forms and subject but is ardent in every approach.

Here, reading feels like celestial navigation. The writing moves through immune systems, sex, pleasure, desire and transformation. The book leads us through the communions between the different bodies alive within the writing: spiritual bodies, human bodies, ancestral bodies, shit bodies, the body as a vessel, bodies that are a gift and whilst physical [they are] infinite.[1]

Clay1 MAP
Courtesy of Clay AD and Pilot Press, London

The opening text ‘Shit Theory’ was written when AD was in their teens and began its life scrawled onto a piece of toilet paper as the author took, you guessed it, a shit. The poem explodes the publication into being with the unrelenting anger and frustration of a teen. It has since been edited and expanded and appears here in 7 parts. Thick, bold script declares:


To read it, you reel through the sentences. The only endpoints are exclamations!


As a reader you feel the burning fury. You feel the effects of *love*. You feel your stomach bubble over after mixing all the gas station soda flavours together in one cup.

The book is punctuated by four pencil drawings that arrange the poems into 5 parts, coercing it into an entangled quintet. A departure from the last 5 books we were told to abide by. The images themselves become 5 altars dedicated to the eras that the writing encapsulates. The first drawing centres a cup of Big Gulp, an icon of American soda. In the centre of the next drawing are two bum cheeks, with the reddened-skin-residue of a hand slapped upon a cheek. Over it a draped cloth covered in a repeat pattern of a bunch of grapes. The joys of decadently indulging in our lovers. An altar for the asshole and, of course, all of its pleasures. Insects, ants, flowers, bodies in the long grass. A bee, a leather whip, a circle of stubbed out cigarettes, boundless infinity. A goat, a crescent moon, an omen? A cup, broken.

Clay4 MAP
Courtesy of Clay AD and Pilot Press, London

Soakedis a poem like a cleansing ritual for the reader. The inevitable disintegration of all things into soil. And beginning again. Poems that oscillate between the acute instances in an interaction and observations of many different worlds. It is a reminder to me that what I like about poetry is the way it vibrates. There are poems here that move like those relationships that touch your life, poems like the soft imprint left behind by another. There are also poems that assert themselves in a different way: poems like a pill to take, poems like being spanked 10 times or poems like a seance to meet your homophobic dead grandfather.

In the final portion of the book AD dauntlessly reminds the reader of the freeing possibilities of shifting your form: the penultimate piece explores the author’s life as a cup, as a vessel, as another body with a different purpose. A singular, objective purpose.

You are reminded that you too can ‘[become] a vessel (transsexual)[3] if you too desire it. That your contradictions don’t matter any more. It speaks to desire and seeking another state, the feeling of “too much-ness”[4] and the subsequent emptying out. The human desire to hold, to have something within us, to be full up and for it to not be quite enough. The fragility of desire and its ability to all at once hold. The fragility of its abundance, to consume and escape you. The hybridity of the writing here stands out, you feel implored too to become a vessel, it is didactic but its successes are reliant upon the tender moments in the language that we read in the earlier poems.

The final text ‘The Vessel’ was written just after the death of Ursula K. Le Guin in 2018. Its energy and rhythm calls back to that of ‘Shit Theory’, but this time:

‘The vessel is the world[5]

Like Le Guin, in Holy Bodies Clay AD sends you swirling, suspends you. You are buoyant as it holds you in its intimate generosity and burning fury and as a reader you yearn for transformation with every next word.


Adrien Howard is an artist and writer based in Glasgow. They are co-founder of Rosie’s Disobedient Press, an artist-led publishing project focusing on writing from marginalised perspectives.


Tender a response probes and parses the reciprocities that can be found, cultivated and rendered between art and writing—what art may lend to language and what happens when language leans into art. It is led by reviews editor-in-residence Sara O’Brien.


[1] Clay AD, Holy Bodies, Pilot Press, London, 2022, p.66

[2] AD, p.5

[3] AD, p.47

[4] AD, p.61

[5] AD, p.75