useless landscape
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Useless landscape

Arab Today, arab today

Arab Today, arab today Useless landscape

London - Arabstoday

With his first four books of poetry, from 1998\'s \"Tea\" through 2009\'s \"Chronic,\" D.A. Powell established himself as a major poetic voice, engaging a range of classical forms in his explorations of eros and illness. In this new collection, \"Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys,\" the award-winning San Francisco poet addresses age-old questions - Are youth, beauty and lust tragic because they don\'t last? If not, what\'s the takeaway? - and presents a finely textured atlas of experience and desire. As the book\'s first half begins, plant life is tallied up with a naturalist\'s savor of the specific, the names of species (soft cheat and meadow barley, tansy and clustered broom-rape) serving as their own sensual justification, even as the sounds hint at disturbances in the human realm. The border between plants and people continually betrays: Protective ambiguity glimmers in the lines \"I had a man that pressed me down/ into the soil\" - after all, seeds are pressed into soil in order that they might sprout and grow - but coercion is confirmed bluntly on the following page: \"I wasn\'t the first/ kid you raped.\" Overgrown botanical metaphors for sex pervade this book, with campy excess. This slippage can help us see the ways we photosynthesize experience into something extraordinary, much like \"the hillside pea and angled pea,/ intensities of light and pomp/ that distress the easy upswept grass.\" It also opens a window onto death and decay, which are intimately near in these poems: \"Not every flower, leaning vainly toward his own face/ reflected in a murky puddle, gets to meditate upon himself/ more than a few transitory days, before he, too, molders.\" Magnificently, Powell holds in one hand the natural world, the built environment and the human body - which together form a landscape that is only as \"useless\" as poetry itself, which is to say both very and not at all: But every candid shoot and fulgent branch          depends upon the arteries beneath. The houses have their siphons                 and their circui vents. The heart - I mean the literal heart - must rely upon its own plaqued valves; the duodenal canal, its unremitting grumble.                          The brain upon its stem, and underneath, a network, vast, of nerves that rationalize. Here plants and houses and brains are undergirded by arteries and vents whose lines are indented, taking insulated refuge in the page\'s interior, while the \"literal heart\" - the poet breaking the fourth wall, to name it baldly - is, along with what feeds it, glued to the left margin, vulnerable and exposed. The \"plaqued valves\" suggest, perhaps, the fungibility of memory, a theme sounded throughout these poems - and, more broadly, the changes and shapings that experience undergoes on its way to becoming art. Smartly, Powell causes the orderly iambs of plants and houses to break apart where the heart is concerned: To make art is to both employ form and exceed it. In the book\'s second half, carnality enlivens classic aspects of American boyhood, from cross-country practice to marching band to a camping trip: To build a fire without a match, locate a woody-tissued branch that\'s light in lignin. Also something to cause friction. You may need to ask a pal for his assistance. This that\'s-what-he-said version of adolescence is like a canvas by Brueghel, crawling with miniature scenes of panting need, impeccably rendered and filtered through the relentless horndogginess of the teenage boy. Gone are the intimations of advantage-taking; cocky, winking pride takes over now. A loosely structured sestina ends \"& just for the record I\'ll have you know/ I play on the football team, too./ I just don\'t play on all of them at once.\" Powell is a renowned formalist; though he does not hew rigidly to rhyme or metrical constraints, there\'s a chiseled architectonics to his verse. These poems double back on one another, fugually, repeated words acting as secret passageways running from page to page. Although most of his older poems eschewed closing punctuation, periods pervade this new book, in keeping with his end-of-life concerns. These elegantly groomed poems give shape to ineffables of love, youth, memory, illness, death. In light of such passion for form, it\'s small wonder that Powell can, at the end of a book slick with sex inevitably finite and even fatal, finish with nothing on his tongue but hallelujah. He writes, in a poem about a comely missionary: \"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.\" All that is solid may melt, but form endures.

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