cover image Chronic


D. A. Powell, . . Graywolf, $20 (79pp) ISBN 978-1-55597-516-6

This fourth collection from Powell (Cocktails ) is simultaneously an accessible heartbreaker, a rare gem for connoisseurs, a genre-altering breakthrough and a long anticipated follow-up. The San Francisco–based poet has lived with, and written about, HIV for a decade, and his own illness remains a subject here; so does his celebration of gay eroticism, of love in the spirit and in the flesh. “Democrac” (Powell pointedly omits the “Y”) shows 21st-century queer anguish and outrage: “does god discriminate, slashing some flags,” it asks, while “farther above the chapels pale heaven expires.” Powell goes on to investigate many more sources of sadness and happiness, solidarity and discontent: “Cancer inside a little sea” takes on environmental degradation: “child to come, what will you make of this scratched paradise.” The unruly long lines of Powell's previous work here join more conventional-looking stanzaic lyrics; they join, too, two ultra-long poems, printed sideways, entitled “Cinemascope“ and “centerfold.” This book will be remembered for years, for its serious feelings, their swerves, their tears, its jokes. A poem to a crab louse abuts a scene from the biblical binding of Isaac, and a poem in which the Twin Towers fall segues from bedroom to public space and then back: “lips can say anything but first they say goodbye.” (Feb.)