Photographers Unknown, The Spokes of fortune’s Wheel in Constant Turn
I have had to learn the simplest things
last. Which made for difficulties….
We know from accounts of the judgment of Paris how Love took
the apple burnished by–it turns out–her own husband, working
forging to Discord’s specifications, her need to break the
of marriage, her undiluted vitriol, that oversaw his flux and
guided the sparking hammer to its urgent deeds.
Spoils of war.
Power, undeterred and wily as it always is, the figural eye and its
took gladly the second chair, from which advantage
machinations could be seen.
Advised, conferred, deployed the second wave of ships, provided
to every side and fanned the air, and made her counsel with all
every one and none, out-waiting tides.
If we believe the Greeks, the spokes of Fortune’s wheel in
constant turn would allow
the last to be the first–beatitudes bestowed upon the losing
a draught of time in which the wily ones, by their equine portage
the mind the victor over Love’s inconstancy and strife,
and, over brute acts, gave thought dominion in a golden age. But
that’s just a myth.
Wisdom, you are the last to whom I turn. Not for your spear,
fashioned in that same fire as all bright jealous objects of desire,
But for you shield.
Protect the least of us. Or lift me from this battlefield,
and take me home.
D. A. Powell, To Last, 2019
Born in Albany, Georgia in May of 1963, Douglas A. Powell is an American poet. After finishing his primary education in the California town of Olivehurst, he relocated to Santa Rosa where he entered Sonoma State University. Powell earned his Bachelor of Arts in 1991 and his Master of Arts in 1993. After completing his graduate work, he studied at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa and received his Master of Fine Art in 1996.
After his formal studies, D. A. Powell began a career as a poet and university professor. He has taught at New York’s Columbia University, Sonoma State University, San Francisco State University and the University of Iowa. He also served as the Biggs-Copeland Lecturer of Poetry at Harvard University. In 2004, Powell left Harvard to take a teaching position in the English department at the University of San Francisco.
Powell’s work blends the mythology of gay culture with his own distinctive voice and personal experiences. His first exposure to poetry was through Dudley Randall’s anthology “The Black Poets”. An early exposrue to such authors as Amiri Baraka, Ntozake Shange and Alice Walker also played an influential role in Powell’s development. While exploring local bookstores, he came across T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste land and Other Poems”. Eliot’s poetic influence can be seen in Powell’s use of fragmented life experiences later reconstructed in verse on paper.
In his work, D. A. Powell mixes both conventional and non-conventional techniques of poetic format. There were no titles to his early poems; the poems’ working titles were their first lines. Similar to the work of E. E. Cummings, the first letter of a new sentence is not capitalized. Shifting between popular culture and more complicated themes like religion and AIDS, Powell uses rhetorical devices, such as puns, to serve as bridges between these separate areas of experience. Open typographical spaces are often inserted in the middle of his lines that in effect lend pause to the cadence of the poem.
Powell’s first published collection was the 1998 “Tea”, a work he started the day he arrived in Iowa for grad school. This early work gathered reference material from both high and low culture: Whitman’s poetry and biblical heroes to Hollywood romances and Batman’s Robin. In 2000, Powell published “Lunch”, layered poems of memories from childhood and adolescence fractured by his adulthood and diagnosis of HIV. His third collection, the last of this trilogy, was the 2004 “Cocktails”, a contemporary Divine Comedy composed from witty and eloquent poems born of the AIDS pandemic. “Lunch’ was a finalist for the National Poetry Series and “Cocktails” was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry.
D. A. Powell’s 2009 “Chronic” was a work of wildly varied subject matter with effects drawn from contemporary free verse. The poems contained colloquial clichés, odd punctuation, parenthetical marks, lack of capitalization and quotes without any ascribed credit. Among the poems included in this volume were “clown burial in winter”, “clutch and pumps”, and “cancer inside a little sea”. In February of 2010, Powell won the prestigious Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award for his work. “Chronic” also won the 2009 California Book Award. Powell’s next work “Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys”, published in 2012, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for that year.
Powell was made a Guggenheim Fellow in 2011 and in 2019 received the John Updike Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Notes: Additional poems by D. A. Powell can be found on the PoemHunter website located at: https://www.poemhunter.com/d-a-powell/
There is a more comprehensive article on D. A. Powell’s poetry collections, entitled “D. A. Powell’s Unruly Elegies” and written by Christopher Richards, in the online New Yorker Magazine that is worth reading. This Page-Turner article can be found at: https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/d-a-powell-poetry