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introductions at poetry readings

By Jeffrey McDaniel

Tonight, I am introducing D.A. Powell at the Sarah Lawrence Poetry Festival. Since I am blogging, I will share what I came up with. For the record, I am a big admirer of Doug’s work, so praise came easy. I would love to see a fellow blogger talk about the challenges of introducing a writer at a reading whose work you don’t connect with, or even to share an introduction horror story.

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It is my pleasure to introduce Doug Powell tonight. His first book Tea was a debut that astonished for its maturity, formal inventiveness, exact diction, tonal shifts, and vision. No one sounds like Doug Powell. Maybe if we took Dennis Cooper’s experience, added John Berryman’s syntax, and Walt Whitman’s heart, a little Donna Summers, two scoops of Frank O’Hara’s sass, and three slithers of Emily Dickinson into a blender, we might be getting warmer.

Dickinson instructed us: Tell the Truth, but Tell it Slant. And Powell does this, in book after book. With a lethal combination of humor and feeling, he is a poet whose ear and heart and mind are all alive: pulsing and synchronized.

If we think of broader trends in American poetry, we might see the 1950’s as a very conservative era in terms of the mainstream, and vibrant in the margins; the 1960’s as an era where the field opens up, where the Well Wrought Urn gets thrown on the ground and trampled into pixie dust and inhaled. By the 1980’s and early 90’s, the blurriness subsides, and the dust settles; the mainstream and the experimental put on their uniforms and return to their separate corners, separate camps.

The camps were very clear back then: Language, (first-person) Narrative, Neo-formalism. Doug Powell obviously did not follow his factionalized instructions; he did not get in line in the appropriate camp and march in the prescribed manner. And for that we are grateful. He took what worked for him, from various aesthetic approaches, and forged his own unique path into the woods of language, staked out terrain entirely his own. He has led by example and today, like in the 1960’s, the full cafeteria is open to young American poets.

Please join me in welcoming, California Book Award winner, National Book Critics Circle award finalist, Kingsley Tufts award winner, recent recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, and an American Original: Doug Powell.

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Posted in Uncategorized on Saturday, April 16th, 2011 by Jeffrey McDaniel.