cover image Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys

Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys

D.A. Powell. Graywolf, $22 (80p) ISBN 978-1-55597-605-7

Powell has now turned the corner from promising new poet into established power. This fifth collection condenses his obsessions into poems clearer and more compact than ever, some scathing and others comedic, some based on life stories and others built on puns. Now living in San Francisco, Powell grew up in California’s agricultural Central Valley; the impoverished spaces of his youth stand out among his backgrounds and metaphors for ecological disaster, for gay sexual awakening, for sex itself, for illness, and for love. “The Kiwi Comes to Gridley, CA,” for example, recalls “this... overgrown berry with its easy sway/ and pubescent peel, how it will proffer its redolent fruit.” Another poem delights in “Having a Rambutan with You”: “Sometimes, I forget to spit out all the seeds.” Among other culturally omnivorous poets of gay American life, Powell, with his range of form and line, his dark but vivid humor, and his commitment to Romantic traditions, is set apart. Disneyland, high school marching bands, 1970s funk and disco, “donkey basketball,” and planetary astronomy join his expanding universe of figures for sexual pleasure, and sexual sadness; erotic experience serves as a lens through which Powell—a passionate lover of puns, like Shakespeare—views life and death, body and spirit, youth and advancing age. This book will belong on many lists of the year’s best. (Feb.)