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Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  307 Ratings  ·  40 Reviews
I have this rearrangement to make:
symbolic death, my backward glance.
The way the past is a kind of future
leaning against the sporty hood.
—from “Bugcatching at Twilight”

In D. A. Powell’s fifth book of poetry, the rollicking line he has made his signature becomes the taut, more discursive means to describing beauty, singing a dirge, directing an ironic
Hardcover, 108 pages
Published February 14th 2012 by Graywolf Press
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James Murphy
Aug 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Wow. Reading a review I was attracted to the book. I didn't understand that D. A. Powell is homosexual. I didn't make the connection from the subtitle or from the Boy Scout motif of the cover art. Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys is homosexually tuned. More, much of it is homosexual love poetry. Most of it is lovely. All of it is eloquent as well as powerful. This may be the best new poetry I've read this year. Powell's volatile images ring with such emphatic precision that they rise out o ...more
Michael Buckner
Feb 02, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
The book delivers poetry that is open and honest, which I like. There are times throughout each poem where Powell tries to let the imagery lead the poem, but it often fell flat with me. The poems that came from within and the personal experiences works much better as they don't seem to be laden with images that try to be crisp and beautiful. These more personals poems had a weight to them and a strong sense of character that I felt like the author was standing on a stage pouring out his emotions ...more
Nov 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I'm currently a host of a radio show called The Weekly Reader, which interviews authors of new work every week. I was lucky enough to get D. A. Powell on the phone to discuss this book. I had never read his work before, but I got a big kick out of the humor in Useless Landscapes, as well as the more subtle poems--you know, the ones about landscape. Anyway, he's a really cool and incredibly smart guy. I won't be hosting this radio show much longer, but I'll be looking for his next collection when ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Mar 24, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry, read2013
I first heard about D.A. Powell when he was announced as the judge for the New Southern Voices Poetry Prize sponsored by the Hub City Writers Project. I have to admit to being unfamiliar with him previously, although he has been an award winner and nominee a few times over.

I am giving this three stars, which is my typical rating for solid enough writing that also happens to not really be my thing. My eyes glaze over when poets want to be overly descriptive. I found his shorter poems to be far mo
JS Found
Nov 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Desire, sex, change as filtered through Nature. These are lyrics where man's lusts have their correlative in natural wonders and processes. These are also funny, playful poems about weakness, place (in the towns rural of California) and people. They're sexually explicit puns. They're stories about illness that recall Aids. Powell has an incredible vocabulary and he uses a lot of nature jargon--bring a good dictionary with you. Many poems deal with childhood and the change both in the person and ...more
Nov 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Poets, Humor
This collection has some solid humorous moments. And for me the humor is based upon the audacity of the speaker to be so deliberate with allusions and references. Those points made me laugh. Also there were really short and impactful poems as well. I feel the collection petered out near the end, but there are some really strong poems in this collection. Would recommend.
Jul 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
There is a graceful languor to many of these poems which makes them a tremendous pleasure to read. Powell's characteristic wordplay and wit are in full flower, and he solidifies a growing pastoral strain from Chronic, his last volume, which has added a gorgeous new dimension to his already quite rounded repertoire.
Feb 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, read-in-2012
Though Powell's departure from his own form requires a bit of adjustment on the part of the Powell devotee, I genuinely loved the majority of poems in this book. I kept rereading them and I wanted to share them with others. I grew up in the Sacramento Valley region of Northern California, and Powell manages to capture that landscape—both its fertile beauty and its seedy underbelly—for me.
Luis Correa
Feb 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Not my favorite of his. Depends a little too much on the double entendre, which had me giggling when I saw him read, but maybe I'm just in a bit of a funk (and no, not in Funkytown). Some transcendently brilliant poems in here though, especially the two title poems!
Mar 05, 2013 rated it liked it
The more personal poems about love and sex engaged me more than the ones about landscapes and flowers and shizz. His meditations on aging were darned fine. Why do we need to fall apart physically when we get it together mentally? It is unfair.
Jul 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
What a gorgeous collection of language and song. These poems explore all sorts of landscapes, pulling the reader into place with the density of the music and the detailed descriptions. "Tender Mercies" is one of the very best poems I've read this year.
Jan 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, 2013
I'll probably regret or change this rating later, but fuck. As a collection, Useless Landscape is uneven. Some poems are so so, but there are a good number of poems here (maybe ten, give or take a couple) that make me wish I have the range and the audacity to write something similar.
Feb 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: queer
D.A. Powell's writing is beautiful. Can't wait to pick up his other work.
Jun 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This one reminded me how awesome poetry is as a tool for going where other kinds of writing can't and coming out unhurt.
May 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is my second reading of this collection and it still floors me. Powell writes in such a way so that the body of the earth, and plants, and territories become like his own body. Something that is to be explored and tread upon even when it is at it's most vulnerable. Powell writes in every poem about the body, and given the fact that the man focuses on HIV, the reader can see how his body is something that is worth writing about. What's beautiful also is the way that he creates multiple small ...more
Joe Sacksteder
Jul 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Fruit and frost are predominant themes—or, more generally, verdure versus aging—and Powell's poems become preservation techniques by which something more may be made of loss than regret. "Would that there were some other way," he muses, the simultaneous sweetening and decline catalyzed by experience. "Stonefruit is almost as good as fresh, / when the spiteful frost arrives."

Fresh word play and always surprising collocation reveals a volatile combinatorial engine at work. Squiggling unknown or vo
Eric Mueller
Dec 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book of poems. The collection is an incredible balance of nature and it's beauty next to and inside steamy, sexy gay poems. Both nature and love may not be around forever, mortality is a character, too. As a gay dude, I appreciated seeing bodies, fruit, and life on every page.
Donovan Richards
Oct 05, 2012 rated it liked it
The Who

Who are you? The defining characteristics of each person are often both varied and unusual. As humans we can all claim similar traits. We love; we laugh; we live; we die. Externally, we even define ourselves through the region in which we live. I am a Seattleite; I am Cascadian. My region defines me. I don’t mind rain but my smile beams widest when the bluest skies emerge during summer in the Emerald City.

I mention Seattle to illustrate the foundational ideas which kept circling in my min
Jan 24, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
There is no doubt that D.A. Powell is a gifted poet. His verses are lyrical and beautiful and he creates vivid depictions of California landscapes in the early poems of this collection. At first I found myself in love with this collection until further in it because looser and more juvenile. Fantastic imagery was replaced by crude depictions of casual same-sex debauchery.

While it is undeniable that Powell has a way with words and can make any situation musical and witty, I personally didn't fin
Oct 22, 2015 rated it liked it
The language in this collection is interesting--often striking, and occasionally dazzling--though I felt like there were instances in which the vocabulary got a little SAT/GRE (e.g., "campestrial," "mammillate," "exuviated"), and while at times these obscure words contribute to rhythm and sound, mostly it took me out of the poem because I'm immediately wondering "What the hell is that word?"

As is the case with any collection, I responded to some poems more than others. In this case, the ones I r
Jul 13, 2013 rated it liked it
The writing here was dense and solid, but the collection felt uneven. Some of the landscapes were useless. I often felt like a voyeur, pulled into the scene in hopes of making a connection. The connection would break, and I would have to stop looking and turn away. It's hard to empathize with Narcissus when all he can see or talk about is himself. I loved Powell best when he pulled away from that reflection or stuck his hand into that reflection, distorted it, and found something new. I loved so ...more
Christina Rau
May 21, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
Separated into two parts, this collection is exactly what its title says. The first part uncovers, discovers, and recovers landscapes in "Useless Landscapes." The poems incorporate imagery and natural imagery. They make a rugged landscape themselves, each poem's structure unlike the others surrounding it. Some poems have pop culture allusions while others seem to reside in D. A. Powell's personal history. The second part offers instructions, process, and outcomes in "A Guide For Boys." Here the ...more
Feb 16, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry, 2012
It is rare that I find a collection of poetry which I love in its entirety. The best I can usually hope for is three or four individual poems--and a few more lines or stanzas--that move me. These I copy into a word document for further reflection and examination. I think my favorite poem from this particular collection is "Tarnished Angel," although there were a number of single lines which struck me still.
Steven Tomcavage
Jan 06, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: poetry
The books starts out with some interesting poems about the landscape of California, which I enjoyed, but then it turns into poem after poem about troubled gay sex encounters. Those poems tend to employ wordplay of the type I would expect from a snickering schoolboy. I imagine Mr. Powell laughing to himself at the inclusion of every double entendre, but I just found it more and more childish.
Mark Young
Oct 02, 2016 rated it liked it
I was supposed to like this book - great reviews, lauded poet. But it was just meh to me. Intricate language, interesting mix of the beautiful and the profane, grounded, accessible, yet philosophical. In the end, however, it didn't move me. The poem's endings were weak and too similar. Maybe I should have read it in smaller chunks instead of all at once.
Gustavo Sénéchal
Dec 15, 2016 rated it liked it
My original intention was to give this book just two stars, then I went back to some poems in the first part and they really struck a cord on me. Yet the volume is very uneven. The poems in a Guide for Boys just fell totally flat and don't live up to the quality of some found in Useless Landscape.
Feb 21, 2013 rated it liked it
My first book of poetry in a looonnnggg time. To evaluate my own reading: I understood maybe more than a little. And I enjoyed the words. But I expected something less sentimental. And while I could reasonably expect darkness, what I found was often small, and sad of course.
Feb 21, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: 3-star, poetry
Maybe a book I'll revisit later in life but I simply couldn't understand a good portion of the poems. It is abstract and geared towards the more intellectual sort. The ones I could comprehend I did like though, and hopefully just reading more poetry will eventually help me understand more. :)
Patti K
Apr 21, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
This volume was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2012. Powell writes a
rather dark meditation on gay sexuality and loneliness. Many poems deal with
Landscapes of.... He uses a lot of very naturalistic detail and the reader is
introduced to a variety of natural areas.
Dec 04, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
Favorite Poems: "The Fluffer Talks of Eternity," "Landscape with Sections of Aqueduct," "College City Market, College City, CA" and most of the others in the first section of the book.
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D. A. Powell is the author of Tea, Lunch, Cocktails, Chronic and Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys, which received the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry in 2013.

Repast, Powell's latest, collects his three early books in a handsome volume introduced by novelist David Leavitt.

A recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, Powell li
More about D.A. Powell...