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Adam Donaldson Powell: the Making of a Poet

I shall never forget the evening of September 2008 when I met Powell and Russo first time in Oslo, the evening when I by Grace of God talked to these great poets. It was a miracle, almost incredible to meet Albert Russo, the  bilingual author, who writes in both English and French, his two ‘mother tongues’.

The occasion was my visit to Oslo in 18-20 September 2008 to attend WORDS - one path to peace and understanding. This international festival was arranged under the auspices of the cultural organization Du store verden!/DSV. The festival WORDS was a grand success due to extraordinary efforts of Eli Borchgrevink, Managing Director of Du store verden!/DSV, Adam D. Powell, Diane Oatley and others.

I am highly obliged to Albert Russo for writing an excelent Foreword to my book. He is the recipient of many awards, such as The American Society of Writers Fiction Award, The British Diversity Short Story Award, several New York Poetry Forum Awards, Amelia Prose and Poetry awards and the Prix Colette, among others. He has also been nominated for the W.B. Yeats and Robert Penn Warren poetry awards.  His work, which has been praised by James Baldwin, Pierre Emmanuel, Paul Willems and Edmund White, has appeared worldwide in a dozen languages. His African novels have been favorably compared to V.S. Naipaul’s work, which was honored with the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001.  He is a member of the jury for the Prix Européen and sat in 1996 on the panel of the prestigious Neustadt Prize for Literature, which often leads to the Nobel Prize. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet these two finest poets.

The chief characteristics of Powell’s works become clearly defined in his literary criticism. This brings us to a very significant question: What is the importance of  Powell as a literary critic? Not being a theorist, Powell doesn’t create schools of theories to analyze the aesthetics of literature. Instead, like Dr. Johnson he “used his criticism for the practical purpose of helping others to better read and understand literature.” His criticism of individual poets will guide us in understanding clearly and completely  Powell’s own poetry.  Powell never adopts “hanging-judge attitude” in his critical essays on poets. The central point at which he is aiming at is described by him in the following manner in his introduction to Critical Essays:

“My main concern is to provide authors of literary works (poetry, short stories, novellas, essays, novels etc.) and independent presses and facilitators of self-published books of quality with a new form of literary criticism: which is informative, which incites debate, which challenges author and reader, and which provides entertainment, but which at the same time functions as a marketing tool and an opportunity for authors to consider their own development and accomplishments from the perspective of another literature.” (“Literary Criticism: A Few Introductory Comments.”)

Powell admires Albert Russo’s The Crowded World of Solitude, Vol. 2. “This collection of poems denotes a clear and masterful demonstration of quality, breadth of content and form, political and social awareness, mastery of storytelling, a combination of the highly-polished and the “intentionally-raw”, and visual, musical and philosophical expressions indicative of the author’s rich multicultural and experiential personal history” (Critical Essays 13). 

Powell’s comments about Jan Oskar Hansen (Portugal), a Norwegian expatriate, are very significant. He is very right in reminding us about “a Scandinavian social code called “Janteloven” (the law of Jante, by the Danish writer Aksel Sandemose (1899-1965)), which presses down upon the necks and aspirations of all who would dare to attempt to exceed the boundaries of humility; and who would profess to be somebody, who would believe that they are as worthy, wiser, more, or better than anyone else, and who believe that they can teach anyone else anything, or that anyone cares about them!” (20). 

Powell adds that Jan Oskar Hansen has “freed himself from the shackles of this code” (ibid). Powell reveals the whole scheme and method of Hansen’s poetry in these powerful words:

“Jan Oskar Hansen has what is referred to in Norwegian (the land of his birth and youth) as “bakkekontakt” (a sense of reality). Hansen’s work often leaves an almost bittersweet chocolate aftertaste, with the effect that the reader is invariably left with a craving for more” (43).

Powell’s comments about haiku poets show his originality and insight. He remarks about Ban’ya Natsuishi’s “Flying Pope”: “True enough, there is much observation embedded in these pearls of writing: sparkling semi-precious jewels singing, dancing, and jabbering now and then about such themes as politics, haiku writing without seasonal references, the loneliness of papal responsibility, and the burden of conscience. However, the real artistry of this work is perhaps the succession of painterly haiku frescoes, all variations on the same theme: the illusion of consciousness” (Critical Essays 73). Powell is quite right as he says in his following haiku published in RAPTURE that haiku means more than 17 syllables:

Norwegian Haiku

norwegian haiku –
salmon in a sushi roll;
exotic and fresh.

A Beautiful Thing

the mind is quite a
beautiful thing – until
one begins to lose it.


seventeen random syllables
don’t always add up
to a haiku.

Ban'ya Natsuishi also very wisely says: “I believe that haiku poem can be written well without season words, written well in free form and not only in 5-7-5 syllables” (Speech text for Lahti International Writers’ Reunion 2009). Sayumi Kamakura replied in an interview: “Season words are still merely words. As long as they are words, then the emotions the author attempts to convey with them should take precedence over the words themselves” (“An Interview with Sayumi Kamakura”).

Adam Donaldson Powell’s literary criticism, extraordinary haiku, paintings and photography, and his poems where most of his themes are connected with  “higher form of knowing”,  mystical experience, intuition and self-knowledge-all these characteristics show that Powell is a versatile genius and a true artist.  In his poetry we often see his quest for knowing a universal god — or the spirit of love in everyone. 

This worldview is the essence of Powell’s  occultism, and this is simply a new version of ancient Gnosticism and the mystical “Jewish” Kabbalah. 

During the 20th century, this mysticism began to spread into mainstream culture through famous  poets and authors such as Alfred Lord Tennyson, William Blake, George McDonald, Tolkien, Charles Williams, and C. S. Lewis. Suddenly, the hidden mysteries of occult masters were laid bare by Powell to a thrill-seeking world hungry for an  exciting spirituality.

Like two Americans T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound and one English poet W. B. Yeats, Powell too is doing his best to put English poetry in the mainstream of European culture. It is well-known that  Pound did much to introduce Provençal and Chinese poetry to English-speaking audiences. For example, he helped popularize major poets such as Guido Cavalcanti and Du Fu. He revived interest in the Confucian classics and introduced the West to classical Japanese poetry and drama (the Noh theatre). He also translated and championed Greek, Latin and Anglo-Saxon classics. T. S. Eliot did not hesitate to conclude his The Waste Land with Sanskrit words “Shanti Shanti”. Yeats’ interest in oriental philosophy is known to all. Similarly, Powell too  in his outlook is internationalist. Powell reads his poems in five languages at International Literature Festival WORDS 18-20 September 2008, Oslo, Norway. He organized the Festival WORDS, and was moderator of all three seminars. The  poets from several continents participated in the festival. He is deeply inspired by the Cretan myths and Buddhism.  In his Critical Essays, Powell wrote remarkable commentaries on the poets from France, Greece, Chile, Portugal, Belgium, India, Japan, USA, Norway. All these achievements prove that he is a global creative artist.

Powell, a professional visual artist, is the author of several books including collections of poetry, short stories and literary criticism, published in  the USA, Norway and India, as well as many short and longer works published in several continents. His “Daedalus, an ancient epic for modern man”, was performed on stage in Oslo, Norway by Blått Paradis Dance Theater Company, 1987-88 at Black Box Theater, Edvard Munch Museum, etc.  

While trying to comprehend the obscure questionings arising in his heart hungry for eternity, Powell gives a modern interpretation of the Cretan myths in his Collected Poems. Then to find promising signs, he visits the Buddhist temples in Nepal. He recites sacred Mantra of  Tibbetan Buddhism. He seems to have attained Shanti (Peace that transcends understanding). This simply reflects the fact that he is in the quest of “that blessed mood” which William Wordsworth found in his poem “Tintern Abbey”:

that blessed mood,
In which the burden of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world,
Is lightened: —  that serene and blessed mood,
In which the affections gently lead us on, — 
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul.

Powell blends European and Asiatic cultures in his works. The whole approach is well represented by his application of the Cretan myths and Tibbetan Buddhism in his several poems. Third World War may be averted if we listen to poets like Powell devoting their time and energy in one poem after another with themes of “Great Compassion”, “Self-Realization”, “inner reaches of devotion”, “spiritual drunkenness”, “breathless incantations”, “the sacred mantra”, “unencumbered / Dreams in the style of our ancestors”, “The globalization of / indiscriminate violence”, “soldiers of hatred”-all these immortal words of Powell are vital, equally vital as the postwar world is going down and down. 

What do Powell’s works reveal? That we can be happy if we remember that “our past, our present and our future are of our own creation” (2014: the life and adventures of an incarnated angel); that “it is the illusion of separation (reinforced by greed for materialism and power) that maintains our fear-based galactic culture...” (Ibid); that we should be guided by “the celestial guardians of love and beauty”; that “the hand of Fate / Is severe with those / Who are slow to acquiesce” (Collected Poems 123); that Daedalus’ “Great lust for significance” may result “in carnage”:

It has long been decreed by the Fates
That as Atlantis declined, so shall
Crete … and Assyria … and
Babylonia … and Egypt … and
Macedonia … and Rome … and ….
The carnage is reflected incessantly
Through this hall of mirrors that
We call history, for behind every
Great lust for significance lurks
A Daedalus 

Collected Poems 126.

Powell reveals the eternal truths in such an artistic manner that a reader spontaneously exclaims-this is just what I thought. Powell has given most comprehensive reinterpretations of the Cretan myths. 

To write like this is quite different from T. S. Eliot. Powell is more positive than Eliot going too far in his negative outlook in The Waste Land. Powell’s great emphasis on “giving birth to the God within” (Collected Poems) and “transmuting “physicality / into crystalline light” makes us think how to bring harmony in our world. Powell himself admits that 2014 “is designed to provoke reflection. The solutions are only to be found in each and every one of us – beyond the illusions and distractions of individual and collective separation.”


More by :  Dr. Santosh Kumar

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