So here we go again – D.A. Powell’s poem.

My first post about this poem is directly below this entry.

Click on the link over Powell’s name – or look at the post below – for the poem unhampered by UD‘s commentary.


coal of this unquickened world

[We’ve already talked about the source of this title in Philip Larkin’s poem, Night-Music. But while Larkin’s focus is mainly on the natural world, with subtly gathering implications for humanity, Powell’s will turn out to be very personal. The coal is himself, his mind, his spirit, a dead, dull, blackened substance unable to lend itself the least bit of brightness. This is a poem about depression.]

midnight slips obsidian: an arrowhead in my hand

[Midnight gradually establishes itself as total blackness. The poet, let us say, sadly holds his head in his hand as one would hold an obsidian arrowhead. His bleak thoughts – painful, sharp glass is what an obsidian arrowhead amounts to – wound him.]

pointed roofs against the backdrop, black and blacker
three kinds of ink, each more india than the last

[Notice how the word india is almost embedded in the word obsidian – the poet plays with words, with near rhymes.]

must be going blind: eyes two pitted olives on a cracker
a draft of bitter ale, a kind of saturated past
poppy seeds: black holes large as my head. my head

[The poet tries this and that metaphor to convey his reduction to a burned-out deadhead; his olive eyes are empty (pitted) and share the shiny inexpressive blackness of the obsidian arrowheads. His past is pitted – saturated – with black holes. These holes designate the memory hole of bitter recollections.]

dirty as a dishrag, crudely drawn imp, a charcoaled dove
disappearing down alleys with a pail from the chimney

[The self-hatred of the depressive. My worthless mind, once innocent as a dove and now filthy with bad thoughts and motives, blackens itself.]

this carbon: no graphite or diamond it’s ordinary soot

[I’m nothing. Nothing special. No diamond in the rough. I’m plain old soot, animated dirt. Carbon of the lowest form.]

dress it up: say “buckminsterfullerene” or carbon 60
but it’s just common, the color of a boot

[“A fullerene is any molecule composed entirely of carbon, in the form of a hollow sphere, ellipsoid, or tube. … The first fullerene to be discovered, and the family’s namesake, was buckminsterfullerene C60 … The name was an homage to Richard Buckminster Fuller, whose geodesic domes it resembles.”]

a slate on the ground. a petroleum bubble above

smothering in the walrus suit,

[He describes himself as a bubble of crude covered in a walrus suit — a ridiculous, but also catastrophic image, since – I suppose – once the bubble bursts, the oil spill will destroy the walrus. This is a very endangered, on the edge, person.]

the cloud of smoke
the shroud and the deathmask. blitzkrieg black sun choke

[Well, there you go. The bubble bursts in a cloud of smoke, and the black liquid chokes the poet to death. He’s blitzed.]

Notice a couple of fascinating things about Powell’s style here. Though you don’t really register it, this is an exceedingly formal poem, a fourteen-line sort of sonnet complete with end rhymes and a final couplet. You don’t register this formality because of the very loose graphic style of the poem, which plays against the tightness of its rhyme scheme. There’s no capitalization, little punctuation, and sometimes there’s just guttering unrelated words: blitzkrieg black sun choke.

These final words suggest a concluding explosive chaos, everything blown to bits; yet the hyper-controlled structure of the poem works against total disintegration…. In other words, there’s an exciting tension in a poem like this one between a content which conveys flat-out clinical melancholia, and a form which shows the creative mind working at full capacity.

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2 Responses to “coal of this unquickened world”

  1. University Diaries » A Poem for 95 Degree Heat Says:

    […] Here’s a poem about heat. It’s by D.A. Powell, a UD favorite. We’ve seen him on this blog before. […]

  2. University Diaries » Totally Fucked Post-Romanticism… Says:

    […] is UD‘s category for the terrific poetry of D.A. Powell. (Read earlier UD takes on Powell here and here.) UD and her friend D (also a poet) are excited that Powell has won this year’s […]

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