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The Art of Perpetuation

Publication Date: October 2020


Vivid explorations of cryogenics, lion baiting, iDollators, dodo birds, SpaceX, and more populate The Art of Perpetuation, a poignant new collection of lyric essays from Alison Powell that troubles the boundaries between human and animal, living and dead, man and woman, adult and child. These nine whip-smart essays juxtapose personal narrative—memories of the author’s childhood growing up in southern Indiana and experiences as a mother of two—with scientific, historical, and cultural narrative. Throughout the collection, Powell seeks to unearth, to peel back, to lay bare: “To pry something out of someone, the meat of a walnut from its enamel-like shell, is an excavation—to uncover a lie, an infidelity.” Dizzying, fragmentary, and provocative, Powell’s lyrical investigations dig in deep, coming up for air only to expose the meaningless of naming in a world obsessed with self-perpetuation. “To say a poem is like a body is to say one’s self is a machine. To say a body is erasable is to say extinction is a temperate clicking…. And like that, with one hand on the glass and one gloved hand inside the mouth of the woolly rhino, you have done it.”


An exciting development: as the large ice sheets of Siberia thaw, well-preserved remains of giant prehistoric monsters will reveal themselves. Let us hope the paleontologists are alert with their tools. When the water trickles out of the bath, the bright-colored toys are scattered. I am already trying to clothe the child and warm the milk. I am “forward-thinking,” a “multitasker,” a good worker. Now we do not need to call soldiers to lift the massive bodies as we have sophisticated machines. We can lift the mammoth with only curiosity and propellers. Pin Hole Cave Man was found in 1928 by archaeologist A.L. Armstrong, who described the engraving as “a masked human figure in the act of dancing a ceremonial dance.” He did not say why the figure was dancing, if he had just finished dinner, if he was making a house from the bones, if he made the house for his children, who gathered; if the man, tired as he was from his hunting, worked late into the night, scraping the keratin from the bloody horn and presented it to his daughter the next day as toy, as object of safety, sharp point, way to call for help.


Alison Powell’s The Art of Perpetuation is a Mobius strip of macro and micro that remakes the Oxford English Dictionary into a murder mystery and organizes the kaleidoscope of the natural world into an occult circuit board. In these pages, we encounter the archeological Red Lady who wasn’t one at all, the dreaming Elon Musk and his Ray Bradbury cloak of sci-fi improbability, and the reverend geologist who ate the heart of Louis XIV and declared that he, “like all men of science, know[s] the body because of women and criminals.” Powell is a wizard of history and metaphorical precision, and imbues her elusive subjects with unsettling magnetism, whether it’s Aristotle arguing that the city is organic, “which is like saying cruelty is organic,” or her compelling high school bully, who lives in her brain “and sparkles with her violence,” much like these dazzling, prismatic lyric essays.

—Simeon Berry, author of Ampersand Revisited and Monograph

The Art of Perpetuation is an extended meditation that considers the slipperiness of images. From the archives of dolls to Louis XIV’s preserved heart to personal memories, which are merely images embedded in the psyche, the reader is gifted with a contemplative poetic. This book interrogates how histories, persons, places, and things slowly fade from our present view and leave in their stead wonder, awe, human connection, identitarian query, or ontological mystery. Powell shows us the mind of a scholar, maker, and thinker who can simultaneously hold the answers and the questions. This is writing at its best and most compelling. The Art of Perpetuation is a book any writer worth their words will read and wish they wrote.

—Airea D. Matthews, author of Simulacra

About the Author

© Lisa Wolf Smith

Alison Powell

Alison Powell's lyric essays have recently appeared or are forthcoming in A Public SpaceBlack Warrior Review, Broad Street, Hayden’s Ferry ReviewSonora Review, and Proximity Magazine; recent poetry appears or is forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly ReviewBoston ReviewCopper NickelCrazyhorsejubilat, New Ohio Review, Prairie Schooner, and more. Her book of poems, On the Desire to Levitate, won the Hollis Summers Poetry Prize and was published by Ohio University Press in 2014. Powell's work has been supported by fellowships from Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Vermont Studio Center, and the Crosshatch Center for Art and Ecology, and she has received awards from the Greensboro ReviewProximity Magazine, Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and more. Originally from Indiana, Powell completed her PhD in English at the CUNY Graduate Center with a specialization in the Romantic poets. She is now Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Oakland University and lives with her husband, son, and daughter in Metro Detroit.

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