Longreads 2012: D.A. Powell

‘Useless Landscape,’ by D.A. Powell — reviewed by Sara Marcus (San Francisco Chronicle):

Magnificently, Powell holds in one hand the natural world, the built environment and the human body – which together form a landscape that is only as “useless” as poetry itself, which is to say both very and not at all…

Writing About Sex: The Shocking and Thrilling D. A. Powell, by Stephen Burt (Boston Review):

Like his four prior books, Useless Landscape offers passionate, compact, figuratively inventive portrayals of gay male erotic lives. Like those books, it offers laments for the ailing, aging body, sometimes a body living (as Powell himself lives) with HIV. And like those books it also offers charitable recastings of Christian doctrine, with salvation through the body of the Son; ecological warnings and jeremiads; quests for glamour in déclassé places; and scenes from California’s Central Valley, where the poet spent much of his teens.

Both Marcus and Burt end their reviews with these lines:

There is no God but that which visits us
in skin and thew and pleasing face.
He offers up this body.
By this body we are saved

Here is God as metaphor (of course) for what is fleeting and ephemeral and thus all the more beyond human reach, and salvation as metaphor for those moments when we partake of the otherworldly in and through the human body.

But I would end with these lines that reach the very human (and humane) desire for more than the passing moment of delight that is at the heart of Powell’s poetry:

This is not a time to think the trumpet vine is sullen.
Rather: the trumpet’s bell is but a prelude.
It says we all are beautiful at least once.
And, if you’d watch over me, we can be beautiful again.

Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys: Poems (Hardcover), by D. A. Powell


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