Putting the fun in poetry

On Thursday, January 21, students and poetry-lovers packed into The Little Church in Northeast Portland to hear award-winning poet D.A. Powell read from his works. Powell is the Tin House Writer-In-Residence at Portland State. This partnership between PSU and the local magazine brings two distinguished writers to Portland every year.

Master of Fine Arts poet Erin Perry is a student in Powell’s workshop and introduced him with a thoughtful portrait of the writer, including his penchant for writing memorable quotations on the board, like Sappho’s “Someone, I tell you, will remember us, even in another time.”

Perry explained the sense of awe she had for such an accomplished poet like Powell, but implied that he was so personable, so real, that this awe was quickly dispelled. As Powell took the podium, Perry’s depiction of him was confirmed, as he spoke warmly to the audience, beckoned latecomers to come sit in the front row and created an intimate space with the audience.

Powell explained that the theme of his class was about letting go. He said often the idea of craft can overwhelm the initial, creative spirit and he wanted to free up his classroom from that kind of anxiety. As he prepared to read his work he joked that he doesn’t always agree with or identify with the things he writes.

“Writing is an opportunity to live in other consciousnesses,” Powell said.

With his white fisherman’s beard and a voice reminiscent of Jimmy Stewart, Powell read from his new unpublished poems, reminding the audience that it’s important to goof off and have a good time.

“He read works that hadn’t been published because he wanted to remind himself not to take writing so seriously, that it was something he started because he enjoyed it and some his books had been perhaps overthought,” said Patrick Brogan, an MFA student who was familiar with his work. “That’s something I’ve been trying to do with my writing lately, have fun and laugh a little, so that resonated with me.”

Powell, indeed, seemed to be having fun. As the content of his poems shifted he exclaimed, “Now I’m going to read some dirty poems!”

Rachel Powers is an MFA student in John Beer’s poetry workshop for fiction and nonfiction writers. Powers liked that he reminded the audience of the playful side of poetry.

“The poems he read were full of word-play and eroticism, but also reflections on the mundane and everyday aspects of life,” Powers said. “I liked that he reminded the audience that writing often stems from a youthful pleasure in wordplay and verbal exploration.”

Brogan was not only impressed with the poet, but excited about PSU’s connection to Tin House, a prestigious literary magazine.

“Powell was so personable and friendly. It’s very relieving to see that famous authors are people too,” Brogan said. “Tin House’s partnership with PSU elevates both the quality of our education and Portland’s literary community.”

Next term, PSU’s partnership with Tin House will bring author Dave Eggers to town for a public reading and staged interview.