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On D.A. Powell’s “Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys”

Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys, by D.A. Powell
Graywolf Press, 2012
Reviewed by Matthew Aucoin for The Colorado Review

D.A Powell is at the top of his game. And Powell does love games: we might start with his new collection’s title, Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys, which captures something of the tonal range he can manage with his tongue in his cheek (not that it ever stays there long). The oblique melodrama of Useless Landscape is linked to the winking A Guide for Boys by the antiquated, theatrical “or,” as in Twelfth Night, or What You Will. That’s three tones in seven words, which is about par for this book’s course: it’s a warning and a come-on, a lament and a love song. He exposes the “useless landscape” of our damaged, infertile world (and of the human body ravaged by lust) — but he also writes us a “guide” to navigating and loving that world (and the body). And the back jacket cover — a map of a pale, lake-pocked landscape which looks like one of Powell’s descriptions of the body (“Winded, white-haired body. Splotchy skin. / A face uneven as a river jag / and asperous as the mullein’s flannel leaves”) — is bordered on its four sides by the book’s title, re-lineated as a quiet plea: use less land scape