August 17th, 2009 / 10:35 am
Word Spaces

Word Spaces (14): D. A. Powell

chronic_cover-1D.A. Powell lives/teaches in San Francisco and is the author of three previous books of poetry, Tea, Lunch, and Cocktails, which was named a finalist for the 2004 National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry. His latest book is Chronic, out from Graywolf Press. You can read the title poem of the book at PoetryDaily, a review at the LA Times, and a longer essay at The Critical Flame.

In addition to the basic bio, I want simply to say that D.A. Powell is the sort of person you want on your side: he’s generous, kind, approachable. And very funny. If you have a chance to speak to him in person, do so.

This past weekend, he took a few minutes to send in some pictures/paragraphs of his writing room. I hope you enjoy, and, if you haven’t yet, please consider buying his new book.

His words/pics after the break.




An archeological dig. A midden. A ruin. A desert island. Nearly everything that inspires me both eternally and in the moment is present in one non-hierarchical heap. Or several heaps. A letter from a man in prison who seems to have read some of my poems–he sent me some of his own, written with a pen especially designed so that it cannot be a weapon. The state does not allow for the pen to be mightier than the sword, though it is. His letter has called me back many times. It sits next to a letter from the great love of my life, written from within the psych ward just before he went to jail. These are two of the voices I hear when I’m writing. There are others, too. Chapbooks by Rob Schlegel and Betsy Wheeler. A beat-up copy of Marianne Moore’s Complete Poems. James Schuyler, Hart Crane, Mary Jo Bang, William Gass, Ely Shipley, David Trinidad, Oliver de la Paz. Movie schedules, instructions on how to operate my desk chair (which I’ve yet to figure out), letters full of lies sent to me by a most proficient liar, Chinese catalogues, post-its, receipts, notes I scribbled on cocktail napkins on trains or in cafes. The primordial soup that sometimes wriggles its way into life, like the backwash in the Bolero sequence of Allegro Non Tropo.

I face southeast, where I can stare off into the Panhandle and beyond. There is a black walnut tree. Blue gums. Joggers and dogs and kids who want “change” but who are unwilling to actually make change happen. I’m four floors above the world, and I catch the ocean’s brine on the wind; watch the fog crawl on its white knees up to the spires of St. Ignatius, where it begs mercy. When it isn’t there, I feel like I, too, have been forsaken. Bees visit my flowerpots, though they come less often and the flowers do not last. I make poems out of what little there is of order in my life. I populate them with the names of grasses that do not grow anywhere else but here.


I doze in the evening, listening to a phonograph. The chair is as comfortable as anything can be, though I often am discomforted. My organs are taxed and like to spread their complaints across my nervous system. I read Marquez and Waugh and Genet, and I listen to Gertrude Stein’s operas or to Nina Simone. Everything has scratches in it. There used to be a broadside sitting on the lid of the record player, but I got rid of it. It was not a very good poem written by not a very good poet, but he said he loved me so I said I loved the poem. Now I don’t need the crappy poem in order to remember what pain feels like.

On the opposite wall, and behind me as well, there are paintings. Watercolors. In this chair, I write longhand or I go “ta-dum, ta-dum” in my head, until the “ta-dums” are gradually replaced by words.

I never think for one moment that I’ll write another word. And yet, it happens. These days the poems are not for anyone in particular. They are for a future reader, a someone who understands what it is to be locked away, in a prison, in the mind, in the body, aching to be set free.



  1. wtf pwm

      wish my desk was that smart looking

  2. wtf pwm

      wish my desk was that smart looking

  3. Ethel Rohan


      Thanks so much for introducing me to D.A. Powell. Hopefully our paths will cross in San Francisco.

  4. Ethel Rohan


      Thanks so much for introducing me to D.A. Powell. Hopefully our paths will cross in San Francisco.

  5. Ryan Call

      no problem ethel

  6. Ryan Call

      no problem ethel