Useless Landscape, or a Guide for Boys: Poems by D. A. Powell (Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2012. 110 pp)

D. A. Powell is the author of five collections of poetry, including the trilogy of Tea, Lunch, and Cocktails, and Chronic, winner of the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. He has twice been a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry. He lives in San Francisco.

The Who

Who are you? The defining characteristics of each person are often both varied and unusual. As humans we can all claim similar traits. We love; we laugh; we live; we die. Externally, we even define ourselves through the region in which we live. I am a Seattleite; I am Cascadian. My region defines me. I don’t mind rain but my smile beams widest when the bluest skies emerge during summer in the Emerald City.

I mention Seattle to illustrate the foundational ideas which kept circling in my mind as I read D. A. Powell’s Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys. Partly a rumination on the physical places we inhabit and partly an impressionistic look at relationships and the power of sexuality of the human person, Useless Landscape paints a beautiful picture.

The Golden State

In terms of place, Powell writes of Northern California—the Bay Area and its corresponding waves of grain. Powell’s poetry hints at consanguinity with the land. The terrain carries emotional importance to a person defined by this region.

Moreover, Powell ponders the connections between people and the place in which they live. His poetry carries a sense of the fading importance of the land and a disconnect between people and the earth.

“Let in the needy, the glutinous,
the bald-headed children nearly posthumous.
Finish each thought with a sprinkle of pixie dust.
Hello, once formidable kingdom. Goodbye” (76).

The “kingdom,” the physical place where person and land connect has left. Once formidable. Now gone.

By Relationship We Are Saved

Even stronger, in my opinion, is Powell’s collection of verses on manhood, sexuality, and the relationships between people.

Unabashed in his sexual preferences, Powell lyrically appraises themes of love, sex, friendship, and the spiritual connection between people.

“When I see the flattened box of an out building
lying in a rusty rhombus on the ground,
I think of so-and-so. Or whojamadoojy.
That’s where I met him, the man who was it for now.
The Luke who was my mark.
The Matt who was my john.
So many acts. xx” (88).

To Powell, the power of relationship is restorative. While many lean on faith in an immaterial, immutable being, Powell considers the spiritual connection with a lover to be the ultimate example of hope, joy, and a foundation for a fruitful life.

“Let him be born of every ash that glows
in the oil drums of winter parks.
Let lesions disappear, let brittle bones be knit.
Let the integrity of every artery be restored.
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” (103).

What Identifies You?

Powell’s culled poems powerfully present illustrations of identity. The places we live; the people we befriend, love, exploit, and redeem: they all unite into a cohesive view of how we view ourselves. I am Seattle; I am Cascadia; I am happily married. D. A. Powell is San Franciscan, an updated Steinbeck extolling the virtues of the Golden State. His sexual preferences define him. The physical matters beyond all other considerations

If you are a fan of imaginative poetry, the Bay Area, and lyrical poetry, check out Useless Landscape, or a Guide for Boys.

Verdict: 3 out of 5

Affiliate Links:
Powell’s Indie Bound Amazon

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