By Avarie Cook
When a student asked Douglas A. Powell (D.A. Powell) what advice he would give to those in the LGBTQ community who are finding no outlet to express themselves, he said, “Almost everything in the world is going to try to silence you.”
This strong statement accurately set the tone for his talk in the Forum on Monday titled “Cocktails,” named after his 2004 poetry book following “Tea” and “Lunch.” When asked why he skipped out on dinner, Powell claimed those were the only meals he had as a queer man.
Powell read many poems featured in his latest poetry book, “Useless Landscape, or a Guide for Boys.” The topics of the poems ranged from the view of a lustful “fluffer” in pornography to the adventure of a late-night drive in Los Angeles.
“The Fluffer Talks of Eternity” expertly displays unrequited love in an unexpected place. Powell expressed the longing of the speaker clearly enough for any member of the audience to relate, despite the unfamiliar setting of the romance.
Powell answered questions and gave advice to students about writing poetry and what he does to create his work.
“Write something that someone else can say ‘that’s about me,’” Powell told one student.
“Ode to Joy” is a descriptive poem about cruising around Los Angeles on a Friday night. Regardless of the typical subject matter, Powell gives details of the night that would otherwise be unwritten. He goes through the mindset of these adventurous youths, explaining the electric colors they see, the fast food they eat, and the timeless glory of being euphoric with friends in a beautiful city.
Much of Powell’s advice included the act of expressing one’s true self and using poetry, or any other artistic expression, as a way of communicating your deepest emotions to look back upon as well as share with the rest of the world.
“It is important to me that poetry, or any art, include that dimension of being able to unpack or unveil or reveal to us something true about ourselves and the world,” he said.
Powell exhibited a philosophy of doing things to satisfy your own expectations of yourself and living for your own happiness. His poems communicate the feeling of infinite youth along with the sadness that comes with nostalgia once that freedom is gone.
In “Missionary Man,” Powell writes “Had I ever thought about being saved?/No. I had only ever thought about being spent.”
He claims to be surprised about receiving any recognition for his work, although he does appreciate it. However, since Powell has settled in San Francisco, he realizes that poets are seen as having a “traditional” career, compared to Boston, which keeps poets at higher standards.
When it comes to expressing your feelings and thoughts through the medium of poetry, Powell believes it is the “safest” way to go, due to the fact that people rarely read poetry or listen to each other when they have the opportunity in conversation.
“Poetry is a way of reengaging language in a way that invites attention,” Powell said. “It’s a rather safe place to be revealing.”
Powell’s poetry is seen as a balance between conventional and unconventional. He portrays common views and feelings in complicated ways that can only be original. His work is his own experiences and truly written for the artist himself.
Many reasons poetry exists is to make sense of the emotions we feel, express them through some form of communication and reflect back on the meaning of the written piece. This often brings up questions we ask about ourselves and the society that surrounds us. Powell believes that in order to live fully, we must accept life’s mysteries, rather than attempt to solve them.
When a student prompted Powell about this and how he managed to make sense of it within himself as a poet, he answered, “As artists we need unanswered questions, otherwise, why would we write?”