The Poetry Society of America is honored to announce that D. A. Powell is the 2015 recipient of the Shelley Memorial Award, presented annually to a living American poet selected with reference to his or her genius by a jury of poets. This year's judges were Henri Cole, appointed by the President of Radcliffe, Ronaldo V. Wilson, appointed by the president of the University of California, and Carolyn Forché, appointed by the Poetry Society of America.
Recent winners of this award have included Wanda Coleman, Kimiko Hahn, Lyn Hejinian, Angela Jackson, Yusef Komunyakaa, James McMichael, Alice Notley, Ron Padgett, Ed Roberson, Eileen Myles, Rigoberto Gonzalez, and Gary Young.
A complete list of the distinguished winners of the Shelley Memorial Award are available here.
D. A. Powell is the author of five poetry collections, including Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys which received the National Book Critics Circle Award in poetry. A long-time resident of California, Powell attended Sonoma State University and the University of Iowa. He has taught at both institutions, as well as Harvard, Columbia, Stanford, and Davidson College. In 2014 Graywolf released Repast: Tea, Lunch & Cocktails, a reissue of Powell's first three collections, with an introduction by novelist David Leavitt. He lives in San Francisco and teaches at USF.
The Judges Citation
Born in Georgia in 1963, D. A. Powell is a brave, thrilling, funny poet, who has mixed both conventional and non-conventional techniques in his poems, which move back and forth between popular culture and more complicated themes, like religion and AIDS. Powell's three astonishingly original books—Tea, Lunch, and Cocktail (recently published together as Repast)—are considered indispensable works of remembering. Though he is a syntactically inventive poet, Powell is also accessible. His poems can be witty and emotional, or to put it another way, fresh and modern seeming, though his subjects are as old as time. Even while writing about the California landscape of his childhood, Powell, wrestles with eternal themes of love and the dissolution of the body. He is a boldly original, unforgettable poet.
I wanted to be either the first man, unashamed of his nakedness,
funkytown: forgotten city of the plain
or the angel sent down to test the will of man.
Take my scrawny youth, the mischief I made, the way
I faced my God down daily. He made me a slab of clay,
and I could be molded, kneaded, pushed through a Fun Factory™.
I gave myself to a lot of men. It was okay. I was okay. & them.
It happened when the canneries shut down.
The vats were finally hosed, the pressure valves
turned off and rolls of unused labels got warehoused.
That's when the fellows packed it in.
And discontent was discontent to the power of ten.
Because I was a minor then, my record's sealed.
Besides, who would want to know my shady ways,
except projectionists who caught me in their beams,
the lanky escapees who worked the dime toss at the fair,
or pulled the saddle ponies,
demonstrated the strongest knife. Who made their way
to the wood that constellated the valley. Oh, the many,
many balls a single man could juggle then.
And I would ask "are you my angel?" (I got that from a book)
((I was so unoriginal. They called me "Unoriginal Sin"))
The humor of it all fell flat. Humor does that.
S.O.S./Fire in the Sky and Funkytown. The rapture happened.
Exactly who most people wouldn't expect:
I'd rather withhold names. Besides, you'd read the entire list
and never know the sass and grace of them.
Ladies from the D Street storefronts, boys from fields,
the pickers, gleaners, lifters, lumpers, men who shot cogged dice,
women on foodstamps, kids who got blown, who were blown to bits,
the wizened gents, dramatic boys who knew a man Bojangles
and they'd dance a lick. The quarterback. Somebody's ex.
As long as there is room, why not let all the people in?
There'd be no heartache then.
We will outlast this time, my friends.
When I am taken o when I am taken o when I am taken
Photograph of D. A. Powell by Matt Valentine. All Rights Reserved.
Poem originally appeared in Zyzzyva and is reprinted with the permission of the author.