Douglas Alain Powell was born in Albany, Georgia, on May 16, 1963. He grew up in Georgia and Tennessee, except for a short stint in Okinawa while his father was employed there. When his parents, who had met on a blind date and married shortly thereafter, divorced, Powell and his brother went to live with their grandmother in Key Biscayne. Powell’s father disappeared; he resurfaced years later in Texas. Meanwhile, Powell’s mother took off with a married man; they set up housekeeping in California. After the man eventually divorced his wife to marry Powell’s mother, Powell and his brother went to California to live with their mother and new stepfather.
Powell ran away from home repeatedly and began what he describes as a rather torrid and shiftless life. He lived on and off the streets, making his living in what he calls some necessary but often extralegal ways. (Among the legal methods of supporting himself he has listed are engraver, theater usher, waiter, tortilla salesman, shoe salesman, tobacconist, telemarketer, caterer, receptionist, house painter, and landscaper. Some poems in Tea suggest other, less licit occupations.) After several attempts at college, including stints at San Jose State University, Yuba College, and Santa Rosa Junior College, he finally ended up at Sonoma State University at age twenty-two, where he began to write poetry under the instruction of David Bromige. During his years in Sonoma County, California, Powell organized local poetry readings and cofounded the journal Avec, which became a major journal of the post–Language Poetry avant-garde, publishing work by Lyn Hejinian, Aaron Shurin,* Peter Gizzi, and many others.
After receiving a B.A. in English in 1991 and an M.A. in English in 1993 from Sonoma State University, Powell received his M.F.A. in 1996 from the Iowa