Existentialism takes on a glamorous flair in Deborah Landau’s dazzling new collection. Through a series of poems preoccupied with loneliness and mortality, Skeletons flashes with prismatic effect across the persistent allure of the flesh. Initiated during Brooklyn’s early lockdown, the book reflects the increasingly troubling simultaneity of Eros and Thanatos, and the discontents of our virtual lives amidst the threats of a pandemic and corrosive politics. Spring blooms relentlessly while the ambulances siren by. Against the mounting pressure that propels the acrostic “Skeletons,” a series of interstitial companion poems titled “Flesh” negotiate intimacy and desire. The collection culminates in an ecstatic sequence celebrating the love and connection that persist despite our fraught present moment. Shrugging off her own anxiety and disillusionment with characteristic humor and pitch-perfect cadence, Landau finds levity in pyrotechnic lines, sonic play, and a wholly original language, asking: “Any way outta this bag of bones?”
To be afraid of every edge, the falling off of it.
Walking at night. Walking under the scaffolding,
passing the spot where the kid lost his phone at gunpoint,
where my daughter while walking to school past the trash
and daffodils was actually in the moment truly happy.
How mildly the days go by and again
the small cove, after the workday, of going home.
This day. The next. The great lengths we went to save
the wild turkeys last summer, how the traffic stopped for them
while the factory farms fed each and every chick
chick chick chick chick into the chipper.
As featured in:
New Yorker’s Best Books 2023
“Landau’s earthy, angsty poems—about sex and mortality and cosmic despair—are insistently quotable, and more fun than they have any right to be.”—New York Times
“By turns melancholy and exuberant, but always fuelled by formal and sonic play, this collection—structured around a sequence of ‘Skeleton’ acrostics, punctuated by a series of ‘Flesh’ interludes—measures the fact of mortality against the pleasures and possibilities of being alive.”—New Yorker, Best Books 2023
“Throughout this collection, Landau’s stereoscopic vision splits: one eye stares into the void; the other stays trained on the luxuries that embodiment allows and mortality quickens. This double sense of life-in-death manifests in nearly every poem. . . . These poems are conversational memento mori, sprinkled with chatty, O’Haraesque bursts right out the gate: ‘Sorry not sorry, said death.’ The voice is delightfully propulsive—and compulsive—as it works against the potential monolith of the acrostic form. The surprising line breaks and enjambment teeter asymmetrically to exhilarating effect.”—Lara Glenum, Poetry Foundation
“In her shining fifth collection (after Soft Targets), Landau chooses the somewhat unexpected acrostic form as a container for her punchy riffs on modern life. Spelling ‘skeleton’ down the left margin, these poems wield a lightness of tone with subject matter that has preoccupied her across several books. . . . These poems unfurl a resonant commentary on loneliness and mortality.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Landau’s way with a line is exquisite. Spacing, lineation, and ellipsis regulate the rush or slow drip of the words, pacing our reading with the poet’s thinking. Often, the form deprives readers of expected grammatical handholds, so we slide into the eye of the poem and her lush language. Most striking is the mouthfeel of the poems, whether arid or salivating, as in a poem about cherries: ‘louche juice, farm to mouth, the sweetest cerise mess.’ Skeletons is clever, pragmatic, and, finally, ecstatic about ‘this bag of bones’ we’re bound to.” —Barbara Engel, Booklist
“Formal poetry is all about precision and control. You have to be precise with language and controlling of your lines in order to stick with the form you’ve chosen. Each poem in Skeletons uses the acrostic form so that the first letter of each line spells out a word or words. Each poem titled ‘Skeleton’ keeps a precise shape, as does each poem titled, ‘Flesh,’ though that shape is different. Concrete poetry at its finest.” —Book Riot
“In Landau form is a way of saying, Voilà! It also dares and disappears: ‘Catch me alive? I am today—swept through the air in a flesh, / thinky-feeling, lugging itself up the subway stairs / & now back on Spring Street again in the dazing light.’ . . . She has found a language for civilization’s current discontents, if not ecstasies, the wearing off of the anesthetic.”—Mark Jarman, Hudson Review
“Landau explores the landscapes of loneliness and mortality within the isolation wrought by the COVID pandemic. Using her trademark sharp, refreshing wit, she positions 32 poems, all titled ‘Skeleton’ and all acrostics, among poems titled ‘Flesh’ and ends with the defiant, affirming series ‘Ecstasies.’ . . . In a book coursing with energy, Landau remains in control. . . .” —Karla Huston, Library Journal
“Landau writes with lyrical precision and take-no-prisoners wit that brings its own pleasure to the reader.” —Charles Rammelkamp, The Lake
“It’s not hyperbole to say Landau’s 2019 collection Soft Targets loaned me long sought-after language for embodiment, vulnerability, even softness. Those poems handled our many human liabilities, awakening me to ‘soft spots in even the hardest-looking agent of destruction, to the smallest, most nourishing pleasures,’ as I wrote for Image Journal at the time. That there are new Landau poems coming into the world, and that they bear this title and this cover, show me how much more is worth waking up to.” —Aarik Danielsen, Columbia Daily Tribune
“There’s little nostalgia—or pity for it—in this collection, and the homes of childhood aren’t directly visible. And it’s this wrestling with the gloom and the beauty—’the fog smokes the bridges like this,’ gorgeous writing—this back and forth, that weaves and constitutes the quarrel in these poems. . . . These lines find, almost miraculously, the respite of a moment, the form of the poem itself like a little shelf for a little while blocking out the storm: ‘Look, these bones are made for us / and the room is mild, and the catastrophe / though nearer is still not.”—McSweeney’s
“Probes mortality and virtual existence amid the pandemic and political unrest while also celebrating love and connection.”—Publishers Weekly, Spring 2023 Announcements
“An unnerving, strangely erotic reminder of what the pandemic felt like . . . a perfect reflection of those months of enforced intimacy amid the threat of death.”—Washington Post
“Landau’s self-deprecating wit is so elegant we can’t help but give in to her charms. . . . Skeletons sings most sublimely in its exaltation of desire. The whole collection is a fierce ode to mortality, mourning time’s passage as it revels in the pleasures of the flesh, urging us to say yes despite everything.”—Diana Whitney, Electric Lit
“Diving deep into what defines us, Landau seemingly finds what sustains us when the outside world ceases to make sense.”—Redlands Daily Facts