Deborah Landau

Acclaimed Poet & Teacher

Readings & Lecture Topics

• An Evening with Deborah Landau

Powerful and vulnerable, spare in form and ardent in tone, her lyric sequences broach existential questions as sweeping and timeless as her language is particular and contemporary. —Publishers Weekly

Her poems leap from the page with uncanny mortal energy. —The Rumpus

Deborah Landau is the author of four collections of poetry: Soft Targets (2019); The Uses of the Body (2015); and The Last Usable Hour (2011), both Lannan Literary Selections from Copper Canyon Press, and Orchidelirium (2011), selected by Naomi Shihab Nye for the Robert Dana Anhinga Prize for Poetry. Her other awards include a Jacob K Javits Fellowship from the US Department of Education and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

The Uses of the Body was featured on NPR’s All Things Considered, and included on the Best of 2015 lists by The New Yorker, Vogue, BuzzFeed, and O, The Oprah Magazine, among others. A Library Journal starred review described the book “As freshly immediate as ever,” as Landau “reveals that ‘the uses of the body are manifold,’ moving in four sections with a roughly chronological feel from wedding parties to flabby bodies around the pool to the realization ‘But we already did everything’—all with an underlying sense of urgency: ‘Life please explain.’ As Landau explores her physical self and her sexuality, she’s tart, witty, fluid, direct, and brutally honest.” A Spanish edition is forthcoming from Valparaiso Ediciones.

Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Boston Review, Freeman’s, The Paris Review, Tin House, Poetry, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times, selected for The Best American Poetry, and included in anthologies such as Resistance, Rebellion, Life, Please Excuse This Poem: 100 New Poets for the Next Generation, Not for Mothers Only, The 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 teaches in and directs the Creative Writing Program at New York University, and lives in Brooklyn with her husband, sons, and daughter.

Deborah Landau’s Website

Deborah Landau is the author of four books of poetry. She was educated at Stanford, Columbia, and Brown, where she earned her PhD. Currently she is the director of the NYU Creative Writing Program and lives in New York City.

SOFT TARGETS (Poetry, 2019)
Deborah Landau’s fourth book of poetry, Soft Targets, draws a bullseye on humanity’s vulnerable flesh and corrupted world. In this ambitious lyric sequence, the speaker’s fear of annihilation expands beyond the self to an imperiled planet on which all inhabitants are “soft targets.” Her melancholic examinations recall life’s uncanny ability to transform ordinary places―subways, cafes, street corners―into sites of intense significance that weigh heavily on the modern mind. “O you who want to slaughter us, we’ll be dead soon/enough what’s the rush,” Landau writes, contemplating a world beset by political tumult, random violence, terror attacks, and climate change. Still there are the ordinary and abundant pleasures of day-to-day living, though the tender exchanges of friendship and love play out against a backdrop of 21st century threats with historical echoes, as neo-Nazis marching in the United States recall her grandmother’s flight from Nazi Germany.

THE USES OF THE BODY (Poetry, 2015)

“Landau’s killer wit evokes Dorothy Parker crossed with Sylvia Plath—leaping spark after spark, growing to deadly dark fire. The Uses of the Body is her best book, its acerbic tone interspersed with lines of grave and startling beauty.” —Los Angeles Times

“Deborah Landau . . . is both confessional and direct, like Sylvia Plath and Allen Ginsberg. Her taut, elegant, highly controlled constructions meditate upon yearning and selfhood.”— Booklist

Deborah Landau’s Uses of the Body presents the very specific challenges of womanhood. Her poems address what it means to be alive—right now—in a female body. She fills her poetry with compelling nouns: wine glasses, bridal gowns, and “books and teacups and ghosts.” And what ghosts: underneath evocative images and poetic play, there’s a moving, yearning mysticism.


“Landau beautifully chronicles this saga of emptiness and loss that plays out against the luminous backdrop of the nocturnal City.” — John Ashbery

“In this heartbroken yet rough-as-a-just-cut-gem sequence, which takes despair and twirls it in all senses to try and make it spill its cheap undying trick, pain flirts, hysteria is an eros, taffeta begs to be worn as if an outer lining of the soul. The speaker of the last usable hour begs you to use it, every instant of it—urgent, confessing to imaginary crimes, wide awake to the one metaphysical joke, the one at our unique expense; and in a swirl of pain, desire, nasty gods, and sheer pluck, the protagonist of this bold book does just that.” — Jorie Graham

It is “always nighttime” in The Last Usable Hour—a series of linked lyric sequences set in a midwinter New York City. At the heart of Deborah Landau’s second collection are epistolary love poems to an elusive “someone.” Here is a haunted singing voice, clear and spare, alone in the dark, alive with memory and desire yet hounded by premonitions of a calamitous future. The speaker in this “ghost book” is lucid and passionate, even as everything is disappearing—the streets deserted, the beloveds gone.

ORCHIDELIRIUM (Poetry, 2011)

Winner of the 2003 Anhinga Prize

“You’ll find a stunning cleanliness of movement and image in these delicious, evocative, sexy poems. Hooray for a writer who can weave presence and absence, longing and loss of longing, into a tapestry of language as rich, honest, and compelling as this.” – Naomi Shihab Nye (2003 Anhinga Prize judge)

“Passionate, stylish, and subtle, the poetry in Deborah Landau’s remarkable debut collection peels back the layers of how we live now – and also how we die. With depth, assurance, and astonishing savoir faire Landau makes Orchidelirium a genuine orchid of a book, a vivid and riveting new bloom in American letters.” – Molly Peacock

“’Uncross your legs,’ one of Deborah Landau’s poems instructs us, ‘and leave the house…’ The poems in Orchidelirium walk out, indeed, into the world of the body, as Landau registers the intensities of the flesh: pleasure, desire, limitation, and, ultimately, disappearance. This poet’s faith that bodies are ‘better than the alphabet’ creates a poetry of vibrant physicality, open to joy and to failure — and, in a gripping final sequence, to the griefs and anxieties visited upon the body, in New York City, in the terrible beginning of this century. – Mark Doty

Read “Soft Targets” by Deborah Landau – APR

Read “The Silence Will Be Sudden Then Last” – Poetry Foundation


Oh, skin! What a cloth to live in.

We are not at the end of things.

He’s tuxedoed and I’m in a cocktail dress.

How gussied up we get.

Drink this, roll that.

Another sender different gender.

We’re going to hit a winner.

We’re going to swallow vodka

and slap down money

and stand around frocked and gossiping

and bleed a little in the bathroom

from earlier today when we were a little minx.

(He really is of the masses, mama said.)

– from The Uses of the Body

ALL ELSE FAILS (excerpt)

As soon as he sits down I can tell I want to.
How long can I sit here not doing the thing
I want to do.

There’s a little hole in my boot.
Could you put your finger in it?

There is power in a silent beat
before answering a question, in a leaning in.
Across the table his mind right there
behind his talking face.

– from The Last Usable Hour