By D. A. Powell
if you didn’t mind the bible
you’d surely mind the belt
This may be the shortest poem I have ever posted. I was looking at D. A. Powell’s poems and originally came across “The Fluffer Talks of Eternity.” While it is an interesting poem, I decided it just wasn’t what I was looking for in today’s poem. Then I came across “Bible Belt.” I was so intrigued by the simplicity of the poem but also its deep meaning. Considering that I was born in the buckle of the Bible Belt where in cities there is a church on nearly every street corner or in rural areas where you can hardly drive a mile without passing a church.
In a chat with the Rumpus Poetry Book Club, Powell talked about being born in the Bible Belt. In the interview he said, “I was born in the Bible Belt. My father’s family were all Bible belters. They belted us with the Bible. But despite their abuse of it, it’s a Good Book.” I think there are several ways you can take this poem, whether the second line means “They belted us with the Bible” or if the belt was used for corporal punishment, is up to the reader. You can hear Powell read the poem here.
About D. A. Powell
Born in Albany, Georgia, D. A. Powell earned an MA at Sonoma State University and an MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His first three collections of poetry, Tea, (1998), Lunch (2000), and Cocktails (2004), are considered by some to be a trilogy on the AIDS epidemic. Lunch was a finalist for the National Poetry Series, and Cocktails was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry. His next two books were Chronic(2009), which won the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award;and Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys (2012) won the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry.
Noting Powell’s “open-secret sexiness, his confident collage effects and his grave subjects” in Cocktails, New York Times critic and Harvard professor Stephen Burt says, “No accessible poet of his generation is half as original, and no poet as original is this accessible.” As a teacher at Sonoma State, he noticed that most of his students’ poems were written to fit the demands of the page. His experiments with his students in writing on unexpected surfaces (such as candlesticks or rolls of toilet paper) led to his own breakthrough in “subverting the page:” he turned a legal pad sideways and wrote the first poem for Tea. Powell explains that “by pulling the line longer, stretching it into a longer breath, I was giving a little bit more life to some people who had very short lives.” Powell has also taught at Harvard University, Columbia University, and the University of San Francisco.