It’s 2012 and we’ve come to trust a voice like D.A. Powell’s. Rightfully so—Powell’s style is one grounded not only in the culturally essential, the nitty gritty of our every city and backwater county highway, but also in his mastery of language, the forging, and we must call it forging, of high art. Consider these lines—an ars poetica?—from “Goodbye, My Fancy”
All the boys of recent memory
have been like this: accomplice,
I should just toss you my thesaurus.
There are words for the kind
of love we have,
though none of them quite suffice.
What can this be called if not superlatively versed wisdom? And his most recent collection, aptly titled Useless Landscape, Or A Guide For Boys and available from Graywolf Press, provides such astute, beautiful perception from beginning to end. What makes these poems so brilliant? In short, I’d argue, their reliance on every imaginable artifice, which is also to say: their over-reliance on nothing. Often, the poems function in a blatant, humored camp:
The first knot doesn’t count.
You’re bound to fuck it up.
The rabbit comes out of the hole;
he starts to circle the tree. Halfway home,
he finds another bunny. So they tangle.
These poems reference nursery rhyme and Valley of the Dolls, the Oscars and a porn fluffer, but they are surely as comfortable gliding through classical and Biblical mythology, or through natural history, such as here, in “Transit of Mercury”—
I’ve got a heat-seeking missile for heartbreak.
& so do you. If there’s another side
of the sun, then you must hide there
in less than your underclothes,
emitting every molecule of thermal funk.
Powell’s fifth collection brings us poems comfortable in their own skins, shinning in their brilliant containers and begging to be read aloud once, then again, then again. In “Pupil,” however, Powell appears to confess: “I have never written a true poem, it seems.” Mr. Powell, it is not true. I can only imagine that in the coming eons, when we’ve all turned to the other side, wherever it may be, there will be people (are we still calling them people in these future times?) studying, nay, engulfing your poems, learning of the “intimacy that flourished here, an outlaw, / just as the outlaws themselves had flourished / in the slapstick goldrush days” of our own age.
Rest assured, Weave readers, I endorse Useless Landscape, Or A Guide for Boys, wholeheartedly, and look forward to its nominations for major awards this coming year, which the collection so rightfully deserves.
Reviewed by D. Gilson
Useless Landscapes, or a Guide for Boys by D.A. Powell
Graywolf Press, 2012