Meet the 2011 Faculty: D.A. Powell

Posted by on May 9th, 2011

Conference poets continue to make headlines. In March, frequent faculty member C.D. Wright [won the National Book Critics Circle Award](http://napawritersconf.org/20110319c-d-wright) for _One with Others: [a little book of her days]_. And a few weeks ago, 2011 faculty member D.A. Powell was [awarded a Guggenheim fellowship](http://www.usfca.edu/Newsroom/Learning/USF_Salutes_Three_Guggenheim_Fellows/).

D.A. Powell

D.A. Powell (photo by Trane DeVore)

It’s not the first prestigious honor for Powell. His latest volumes, _Cocktails_ (2004) and _Chronic_ (2009), were both finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and he’s won a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, the Kingsley-Tufts Prize, and a Pushcart Prize, [among other accolades](http://napawritersconf.org/faculty#poetry).

_Tea_ (1998), _Lunch_ (2000) and _Cocktails_ together form a trilogy that chronicles the AIDS pandemic. Powell was himself diagnosed with HIV while composing the trilogy — inspiring compositions that [fellow poet Kevin Prufer](http://bookcritics.org/blog/archive/In_Retrospect_Kevin_Prufer_on_D.A._Powell/) calls “strange, manic, harrowing, and utterly new.” He elaborates:

On the one hand, the poems were visually unusual, the lines so long and jangly that his first book had to be bound sideways to fit them. These were rhythmically incredibly intricate poems, fraught with allusion and pastiche, highly mannered at times, filled with high-art erudition and pop-cultural reference. … But beneath all the artifice of experimentation and play was a deeply personal, terribly sad speaker, a voice that could find no clearer expression for its pain than in the vacuum created by its retreat from direct statement into music, play and complexity. This poet had lost many friends to AIDS and, for all the glitter that surrounded it, his poetry was both a deeply elegiac and confessional, a catalog of memory and loss.

With _Chronic_ in 2009, Powell cataloged love found and then lost. [_Publishers Weekly_ poetry editor Craig Morgan Teicher writes](http://bookcritics.org/blog/archive/30_books_in_30_days_chronic_by_d.a._powell/) that _Chronic_ represents a further progression in the poetic style Powell created in the trilogy:

… he picks up a new instrument, though one of the same family –a woodwind, let’s say, of a different pitch. The poems of Chronic are more jagged, their line breaks more sensitive to the sentences those lines are dividing. These poems represent a rare case of a poet learning to hear himself better–and to communicate more intimately–as soon as he seemingly mastered his voice.

Powell is at work on a new collection, in which he professes he’s “writing in fairly straightforward sentences and using traditional punctuation and capitalization. I’ve done a few things that are formally new for me in this collection.” At the same time, [he told the Nashville Review](http://www.vanderbilt.edu/english/nashvillereview/archives/2360), he continues to employ a “painterly mode” that came to the fore in _Chronic_:

I’m continuing that particular thread in this book. People don’t have any sense of what things are, they don’t know their own environment and they try to remove themselves from it as much as possible, through screens and filters, through media and information technology and all these coping mechanisms which are like the trappings of a really dysfunctional relationship. Rather than looking at what’s going on and addressing the problems that we’ve created, we look at the problems through a filter, if we look at them at all.

Powell is, nonetheless, fluent in social media. He maintains [an active Twitter stream](http://twitter.com/powell_da), and kicked off Poetry.org’s [“30 Poets, 30 Days” Twitterfest](http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/22260), featuring a new guest poet daily, in honor of National Poetry Month. Of Twitter, he says:

Twitter has become this way for people to sort of track their progress through the day; a modern ship’s log. It’s a form that intrigues me, because it requires a great deal of compression. It means that everything has to be rigorously pared down. And at the same time, people use it as a nervous signposting.

We’re looking forward to hearing some of Powell’s new poems live IRL (In Real Life) this summer, and hope you’ll [attend the workshop and join us](http://napawritersconf.org/apply). Meantime, more here’s more about Powell:

– [Turning the Paper Sideways: An Interview with D.A. Powell](http://www.poetryflash.org/archive.284.Witt.html), _Poetry Flash_, 2000
– [Poetry Foundation entry for D.A. Powell](http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/da-powell), including three poems: [“callas lover”](http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poem/180537), [“Chronic”](http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/241734), and [“continental divide”](http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/181574)

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