Soft Targets





“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

“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

“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. Be it as a citizen on a crowded crosstown bus, traveling in an age of soft targets, or as a mother growing into the middle age awareness of how vulnerable a strong body can be. As a woman drinking alone. Fear is the connector and the current in Landau’s poems, where outer and inner become an endless loop. Written partly in Paris in the wake of the extremely violent terrorist attacks of 2015 and 2016, these poems are also dispatches from a ragged end of our present imperium, when violence often relegated to its outer edges bites back at its very center. How is space rearranged? What is centered? Is there a way to use language to love when it has become, essentially, weaponized? As Ginsberg wrote in Wichita Sutra Vortex, “all our language is taxed by war.” 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. ” – Lithub (JF)

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)

“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