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D. A. Powell

D. A. Powell is the author of Chronic, Tea, Lunch, and Cocktails, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry. He teaches at the University of San Francisco and lives in the Bay Area.

Blurbs

“Chronic is one of those rare collections that moves beautifully between poetry’s inner / outer stereopticon.”

– The Los Angeles Times

“The best poet of his generation—and arguably the most important poet under 50.”

– Time Out New York

“A collection of piquant poetry about heartbreak that mixes mordant wit and sophisticated sincerity in equal measure.”

– Bookforum

“This fourth collection from Powell is simultaneously an accessible heartbreaker, a rare gem for connoisseurs, a genre-altering breakthrough and a long anticipated follow-up.”

– Publishers Weekly

“Richly romantic yet never sentimental, Powell’s work in Chronic is often addressed to ‘you’: a friend, a lover, and you, the reader. It’s a lovely, intimate style.”

– Entertainment Weekly

“D. A. Powell's combination of wit and precision make him seem like a post-modern Cavalier poet. The lyric fluency, jittery syntactical invention, and (above all) pathos of his poems are a joy to read, and he has developed a style that is unmistakably his. He is a capacious and exhilarating writer, and Chronic is his finest collection yet.”

– David Wojahn

“Whenever I change the channel to D. A. Powell’s work, there beneath the screen’s headlines runs the simultaneous quicksilver crawl of news from elsewhere: from underneath, behind the scenes, the half-secret places where love is brokered and power is spent. It all races to the heart, and keeps his poems there. Chronic gives us the time of our lives in ways both ardent and exhilarating.”

– J. D. McClatchy

“The chronic illnesses and errors afflicting our planet: can they be healed by a poet? Can they be healed by a poet who suffers from an illness equivalent to the global one? ‘Drug failure or organ failure, cataclysmic climate change….’ This book shows the affliction speaking for itself and this planet doing its best to survive where ‘the yellow violets bloom.’ Other poets ghost the pages (Orpheus, Baudelaire, Donne) with their ancient belief that poetry is a physician. This book makes you believe them.”

– Fanny Howe

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Featured Book

Chronic

The Twittering Author

12/23/11

The particularity of a writer on Twitter: this is not People magazine’s best-dressed list or a dance competition, an improv comedy show or a submarine mission. These are words, the fodder and folly of writers and the element in which they should excel. We can only expect so much from Lindsay Lohan’s tweets, an update on her sobriety, at best. And, while, yes, Twitter was designed for just such exhilarating celebrity news, this social media is also a neatly crafted space for writers to test their wordsmithing skills. As for the metalsmith, the work becomes more difficult and more intricate with smaller objects.

Some authors — the more famous ones, mostly — have found an ease in creating public personas on Twitter. Neil Gaiman (1.6 million followers) and Margaret Atwood (270K followers) both excel at engaging with Twitter users and, essentially, being “normal,” link-sharing, retweeting people who happen to write bestselling books. These are not the Twittering authors who interest me.

No, I am interested in the lesser known. The writers I love tweet about nonsense. They tweet because it’s amusing. They tweet stories and dreams and observations that succinctly demonstrate why they write, that they must. They tweets shards of wisdom so sharp that I feel the dullness of my own tweets, and I hope that my RTs do not debase their gracefully worded morsels.

Let’s begin with the poets, who have less presence than the (always louder, longer, always clamoring) novelists. I present D.A. Powell, an award-winning poet and 2011 Guggenheim Fellow (2.2K+ followers):

@Powell_DA: I constantly doubt my vocation, even though I’m not a young nun.

@Powell_DA: Sometimes I forget my own esophagus

Powell’s last book of poetry, Chronic, garnered the following remark from critic John Freeman in the Los Angeles Times: “There are poets who show us the exterior world and poets who ferry news of their inner turmoil. Yet very few possess the double vision required to do both.” Freeman may as easily have been commenting on Powell’s Twitter account. Few writers (few anybody) have successfully used Twitter to interact with readers by exposing their vulnerabilities while maintaining a high standard of language and revelation — but Powell has. Sometimes, I, too, forget my own esophagus. The reminders of the little things, like esophagi, are exactly the gems I expect from a poet as great as Powell.

I would not be surprised to read either of these tweets in one of Powell’s poems. The former, a confession of doubt despite success, both reveals the poet as a real person — the tweet received 4 replies and over 10 retweets — and, in characteristic cheekiness, reiterates his cleverness as Powell turns only 64 characters into a commentary on life choices.

Enter Arda Collins (350+ followers), a young poet whose less prolific Twitter account nonetheless offers up:

@ardacollins: Vespers at Target.

@ardacollins: I just went into my toolbox and took out a hammer and I have no idea why. In a parallel universe I am doing something w. a hammer now.

In Collin’s first book of poetry, It Is Daylight (a Yale Series of Younger Poets winner), she excels at creating just the same unsettling dichotomies, a world (or a parallel one) that is both trivial and inexplicably captivating. What would Vespers at Target be like, I wonder — the combination of America’s religious past and consumerist future? In only 18 characters, Collins conjures a wholly original scene that teems with images and sounds embedded in the readers’ memories, or, at least, in their imaginings of Target and vespers. I can see the choir in front of the lawn furniture, can smell the glowing scented candles.

And have we not all retrieved our hammers, our fountain pens, a roll of cellophane, and promptly forgotten why? Give a poet the chance, and she will create a new universe to explain our actions.

Will 140 characters ever be enough to tell a story? Probably not, but the poets, at least, have long found solace in compressed images and simple but weighty strings of words. Enjoy Collins and Powell, but when the tweets tease you or leave you with a lack, read their books.

__________

In the next installment on tweeting writers: the unconquerable Blake Butler gives me pleasurable headaches, and Ben Greenman writes a lot of puns. . . .

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8 Comments

  1. Alex M. Pruteanu said on 12/23/11 at 10:54 am Reply

    Nice! And now I’m following him. And by the by, if you’re looking for a writer who tweets nonsense (once overheard said as: “noncent”), come along and follow me. (@lx69). I excel at nonsense. First rate. Every day.

    Reply

    Tiffany Gibert said on 12/23/11 at 3:16 pm

    They’re both worth following! Powell is a more regular tweeter, though. Clearly, I love nonsensical tweeting–am now following you, Alex. And readers are welcome to follow me at @TiffanyGibert for lots of tweets about books.

  2. Tiffany Gibert said on 12/23/11 at 3:26 pm Reply

    On a somewhat related note, yesterday the NY Times published a list of #lasttweets by celebrities who died this year. Morbid much? http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/12/25/magazine/last-tweets.html

    Reply

  3. Jordan Blum said on 12/24/11 at 12:42 am Reply

    I’m intrigued by the way Twitter sort of invites users to write Flash Fiction (where there is no minimum word count and the maximum is usually around 1,000. Most advocates consider 250 to be a good amount). I mean, a “tweet” can only be 140 or so words, so it’s almost asking this new generation of fiction writer to craft a piece with every post.

    Reply

  4. Jordan Blum said on 12/25/11 at 12:35 pm Reply

    And of course, there is also Hemingway’s six word story – “For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.” It implies a lot, I think.

    Reply

  5. Alex M. Pruteanu said on 12/26/11 at 10:22 am Reply

    Jordan, Twitter takes 140 CHARACTERS (some of which are ‘wasted’ on your screen/user name, so for example mine is short “lx69″ so I have more room to compose whatever), not words. Although Twitter is marketed/sold as a social network, it’s not really designed or meant to work as that. I’ve been using it for 2+ years (was on for a bit at its inception, then off, then have been back on for a while now) more like an information network. Think old telexes from back in the day spewing out info. I do very little social interaction on Twitter and don’t follow any celebrities or famous people. I’ve got the people/entities I follow set up in lists, so there’s a News List, a Literary List, a Local List, and a Travel/Restaurant List. Twitter was originally set up to be used by Northern California (maybe San Francisco, don’t remember) firefighters in order to disseminate info quickly about rapidly-moving fires or emergencies. So I always tell people who complain about Twitter as a ‘social network’ that it was never meant to be that, despite what they say. Think this: Twitter is for information, Facebook/G+ is for interaction. i think Twitter’s 140 character limit is an interesting experiment for a writer (at least for me, anyway). It definitely encourages brevity and focus. I can’t say for sure whether or not it helps ‘the craft.” In my years as a journalist for Voice of America, I worked briefly at a desk that disseminated news in English as a Second Language for services, and I only had a vocabulary limited to about 1500 words to use. That worked a lot like Twitter in a way, if you think about it. Twitter’s limit is space, but constrains you about the same as a 1500-word vocabulary when you’re trying to write news reports and op-ed pieces to countries whose English knowledge is severely limited. That being said, I adore Twitter…much much more than Facebook. I also really like Google + and wish most people would leave FB for it.

    Reply

    Jordan Blum said on 12/26/11 at 7:55 pm

    Ah, yes, 140 CHARACTERS ha-ha. Even more limiting and challenging, then.

  6. Helen said on 01/01/12 at 2:32 pm Reply

    This was so oddly timely for me – just deciding whether to cave in to twitter as part of a new year shake up. My hesitancy was over the banalities of the form – or my own banality. What would I say? Now I’ve some ideas, or role models who don’t make me want to buy things and cry, or what have you.

    Reply

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