Wednesday, August 8, 2012

"To Last": Poem of the Day

A few weeks back, I signed up to receive a Poem-A-Day, from the Academy of American Poets.  Some days are disappointments, some days the poem is too much for me, or too little.  Some days are sweet memories, more and more are revelations.

Today, it was "To Last" (2012), by D. A. Powell, and it was just right:

I have had to learn the simplest things
last. Which made for difficulties...
—Charles Olson

We know from accounts of the judgment of Paris how Love took first: 
the apple burnished by—it turns out—her own husband, working the bellows,
forging to Discord's specifications, her need to break the spaghetti strands
of marriage, her undiluted vitriol, that oversaw his flux and foundry, 
guided the sparking hammer to its urgent deed.

Spoils of war.

Power, undeterred and wily as it always is, the figural eye and its agency,
took gladly the second chair, from which advantage machinations could be seen.
Advised, conferred, deployed the second wave of ships, provided mercenary aid
to every side and fanned the air, and made her counsel with all sides, supporting
every one and none, out-waiting tides.

If we believe the Greeks, the spokes of Fortune's wheel in constant turn would allow
the last to be the first—beatitudes bestowed upon the losing side, 
a draught of time in which the wily ones, by their equine portage made
the mind the victor over Love's inconstancy and strife,
and, over brute acts, gave thought dominion in a golden age. But that's just myth.

Wisdom, you are the last to whom I turn. Not for your spear, 
fashioned in that same fire as all bright jealous objects of desire. But for your shield.
Protect the least of us. Or lift me from this battlefield,
and take me home.

Of the poet, there is this, from

D. A. Powell was born in Albany, Georgia on May 16, 1963. He attended the University of San Francisco, obtaining his bachelor's degree in 1991, and his master's in 1993. He then went on to receive his M.F.A. from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop in 1996.

He is the author of a trilogy of books, including Tea (Wesleyan, 1998); Lunch (2000); and Cocktails (Graywolf, 2004), which was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award. His most recent book, Chronic (2009) received the Kingsley Tufts Award and was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award.

His subjects range from movies, art, and other trappings of contemporary culture to the AIDS pandemic. Powell’s work often returns to AIDS, and his three collections have been called a trilogy about the disease. As Carl Phillips wrote, in his judge’s note for Boston Review’s Annual Poetry Award, of Powell’s work, "No fear, here, of heritage nor of music nor, refreshingly, of authority. Mr. Powell recognizes in the contemporary the latest manifestations of a much older tradition: namely, what it is to be human."

Powell has received a Paul Engle Fellowship from the James Michener Center, a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Lyric Poetry Award from the Poetry Society of America, among other awards. He has taught at Columbia University, the University of Iowa, Sonoma State University, San Francisco State University, and served as the Briggs-Copeland Lecturer in Poetry at Harvard University. He currently teaches at the University of San Francisco, and edits the online magazine Electronic Poetry Review.

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