Deborah Landau
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April 2019

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AM New York's 5 New Standout Poetry Books


Deborah Landau’s Soft Targets registers the body’s vulnerability in a time of global crisis, deepening the themes of her acclaimed third book, The Uses of the Body. The fear of annihilation expands beyond the self in this ambitious lyric sequence to an imperiled planet on which all inhabitants are “soft targets.” In a world beset by political tumult, random violence, terror attacks, and climate change, what becomes of the quiet expressions of love between friends and family? As neo-Nazis march in the 21st Century, the poet recalls her grandmother’s flight from Nazi Germany in 1938. “Much trouble at hand, yet the lilies still,” Landau writes, confounded by the simultaneity of pleasure and pain, comfort and suffering – the clash of Eros and Thanatos. “Now bring me a souvenir from the desecrated city, something tender, something that might bloom.”

These are vital, necessary poems for our present moment.

So I told the sky it should stay blue
told my daughter she should stay breathing
told my love he should and we would
as the monster storms showed their teeth
and the fires flared and the wines
weren’t plum enough to numb us
and our leaders’ virulent egos seethed–
(people dying off as if it were nothing
to leave this planet as if it were a breeze)


More Praise for Deborah


“Deborah Landau has spent her life as a poet articulating a poetics of the body. Finding ways that a lyric can enter the space between what the body knows and what the mind wants. This cool as smoked ice new book deals with how that division collapses in a state of fear….Terse and yet lyrical, floating in white space on the page like stark, intimate thoughts, Soft Targets is a riveting example of how we cannot take the body out of thinking, and we shouldn’t. ”


“Through the cadence of these poems, which sometimes resemble lullabies in their dreaminess and gorgeous lyricism, Landau captures the ways humans persist, despite our collective anxiety, in our longing for ‘something tender, something that might bloom.’” 

Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Landau writes gorgeously about the necessity of living with both beauty and pain, of the war between love and terror, the eternal battle between Eros and Thanatos …. It’s a tribute to Landau’s prodigious poetic gifts that she can hold the paradox in her hands so well, simultaneously allowing for hope and complicating it.”

— New York Journal of Books

“Deborah Landau has developed a style of writing poetry that reminds me of Maggie Nelson and Anne Carson, these long poems that feel dreamy because they are so lyrical. This is also her most political book.”

— Major Jackson, The Boston Globe

“A plea for both the planet as it warms, and the world of the West, which threatens to tear itself apart through violence and "weak and disordered" governments. In the end, Landau adopts an almost Whitman-like singing in the face of her despair.”

— AM New York

“Her arch observations create dark interior comedy that's reminiscent of Virginia Woolf or Sylvia Plath….Get this book.”

—NPR All Things Considered

“Landau gives us the sublime feeling that formal accomplishment comes with a steep cost. Art uses us; it may even use us up.”

—The New Yorker

“Landau’s killer wit evokes Dorothy Parker crossed with Sylvia Plath—leaping spark after spark, growing to deadly dark fire … with lines of grave and startling beauty.”

Los Angeles Times

“As Landau explores her physical self and her sexuality, she’s tart, witty, fluid, direct, and brutally honest, and her work can be appreciated by any reader.”

Literary Journal, Starred review for Uses of the Body

“[Deborah Landau writes] a thrilling meditation on the passages of a woman’s life.”

O, The Oprah Magazine


About Deborah


Deborah Landau is the author of four collections of poetry: Soft Targets, The Uses of the Body, and The Last Usable Hour, all Lannan Literary Selections from Copper Canyon Press, and Orchidelirium, selected by Naomi Shihab Nye for the Robert Dana Anhinga Prize for Poetry. In 2016 she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship.

The Uses of the Body was featured on NPR’s All Things Considered, and included on “Best of 2015″ lists by The New Yorker, Vogue, BuzzFeed, and O, The Oprah Magazine, among others. A Spanish edition, Los Usos Del Cuerpo, was published by Valparaiso Ediciones in 2017.

Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Tin House, American Poetry Review, Poetry, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times, and included in anthologies such as The Best American PoetryPlease Excuse This Poem: 100 New Poets for the Next Generation, Not for Mothers Only, Resistance, Rebellion, Life: 50 Poems NowThe Best American Erotic Poems, and Women’s Work: Modern Poets Writing in English.

Landau was educated at Stanford University, Columbia University, and Brown University, where she was a Javits Fellow and received a Ph.D. in English and American Literature. She is a professor and director of the Creative Writing Program at New York University, and lives in Brooklyn with her family.


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