D.A. Powell

in San Francisco, CA

recorded in Iowa City, IA

 

D.A. Powell

My name’s Doug Powell, D.A. Powell is the name that I publish under, because it’s shorter, not by much, and also a little bit less generic. The reason that I started publishing under D.A. Powell is because there’s this musician named Doug Powell. And also, every place that I’ve ever taught, there’s been a Doug Powell on staff, who wasn’t me. You know, somebody who taught psychology or science or something. I live in San Francisco, California. I have been in California I-don’t-know-how-many  years. A long time. I move away a lot, and I move back. I was born in Albany, Georgia and I think the first time that I ever went to California was I was with my parents on a trip to Disneyland and the Grand Canyon and rather than going back the same way, because we went to California on Interstate 40, we came back on Interstate 80 and stopped in San Francisco. And that would have been maybe 1967? 68? Somewhere in there. Shortly after that, the song Sitting on the Dock of the Bay came out.


The Knox Writers’ House

And that was it.


Powell

Left my home in Georgia, headed for the Frisco Bay. And so there was always something in my consciousness from about age five that made me think that someday I was going to live in San Francisco, even though I don’t know how I would have arrived at that city, but there was something sort of magical about it.


KWH

Isn’t that song kind of pessimistic about San Francisco?


Powell

Yeah, yeah. But when I was a teenager, I lived in the Central Valley of California, and San Francisco was this escape, it was this magical place that you could get away to. So I always thought, Someday I’ll live in San Francisco. And it took me a long time. It’s like being in love with someone and terrified that they won’t love you back., so you just gradually move closer and closer.


KWH

Until you’re living with them.


Powell

Santa Rosa, Petaluma, San Jose. Finally I loved to San Francisco after graduate school in Iowa City, because Iowa City was so…it seemed like such desolation for two years that I needed San Francisco. I wasn’t going to be happy with anything less that. So I’ve lived in San Francisco mostly, since then, aside from the three years that I lived in Boston—and that was job-related, I was teaching at a school in Boston, I won’t mention its name. And then on the way back to San Francisco, once I got the job at USF, I took the first semester off and taught here in Iowa, the place that I had wanted to run away from, then I was drawn to. It’s funny, because places are often like that, in my life. Now, almost every summer, I go back to Tennessee and back to Georgia, I love going there, but I hated it when I was a child. Not hated, but had a problematic relationship. The Central Valley—couldn’t wait to get out of there and now it’s all I write about. So place figures in some very startling ways in my work—I mean in ways that startle me, that’s my definition of startling, I don’t care who else is surprised. And I also have this tendency to be rather indiscriminate in what places I write about in the context of other places. So, for example, I might have poems that are set in the Central Valley of California, but I’m mining, say, North Carolina or Montana or other places, sometimes, for ideas or images. But only if they really can be truly imported from one location to the next. California’s very good that way because so much of what exists there is non-native, either plant life or animal life or human life [laughs]. It’s the biological form of collage and my work draws from all of these locations and puts them into one central location. So that’s why the book that I’m working on now, part of it is concerned with landscape, in the sense of what landscape painters used to do, how they would create landscapes by sketching, say, a sheep here, or a brook there, or a tree there and then, going into the studio and assembling them all into one unified picture. They didn’t actually exist together, you know. This sheep was from this village, and this tree was spotted in this county. You learn, as an artist, how to make a reality that is more true than…it’s like watching the nature channel as opposed to walking around in nature. If you walk around in a field, much of your time is spent just waiting for something to trigger a reaction, and then, every once in a while, Oh look, there’s that beautiful, purple flower, or, There’s a bird taking off from the weeds. But what the nature channel does is it takes all of those images and cuts them down to about 30 seconds of footage so that you’re not repeating or spending long periods of time just trudging. So my poetry is a kind of a heightened version of nature. I don’t know that that’s really good for nature or bad for nature. Maybe what we’ve lost as a culture is this ability to sit in a quiet space and look at nothing, whatever nothing is. But I’m trying to help the reader, in some way, or help myself, as the first reader of the poem, by reminding myself of how much extraordinary beauty there is in the world. And if that means that I have to cut out the boring parts, that’s alright, because that’s what Hitchcock said about drama, right? Drama is life with the boring parts cut out, and I think that poetry is a kind of drama, too. We have to pare it down to its essential elements. It’s what the haiku writers did, and it wasn’t like they were any more out of touch with nature than we were, are, in fact.


KWH

Is there salvation in that? In finding the beautiful, in collaging the beautiful parts together?


Powell

Yeah, I think there is. Because then we’re able to see the grandeur of creation. I mean, look at any magnificent depiction of the world and what you’ll see is that it’s crowded with beauty. Artists are our personal shoppers. They’re the people that go out and say, We’re going to get you the ten or twelve things that we think are essential, and hopefully you’ll be satisfied with those.



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