cover image Skeletons


Deborah Landau. Copper Canyon, $18 trade paper (80p) ISBN 978-1-55659-665-0

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: mortality inching ever closer. The fixed starting letters, especially the less common k and o, free and challenge Landau, and some of her best and most playful moments spring from these beginnings, as words like kabbalah, klutzes, ogling, and oy vey find their way into the poet’s lexicon. The “Skeleton” acrostics are particularly powerful when Landau’s idiomatic language is applied to surprising referents. For example, describing pregnancy, Landau addresses her body parts directly: “Bye-bye, ankles. Nice knowing you, feet.” Another poem opens, “Summer dark found us binge-watching the Perseid,” her repurposing of streaming lingo toward the natural world uncomfortably revealing how modern viewers take in content of all kinds. Interspersed between the “Skeleton” acrostics are several poems titled “Flesh,” which have a tone that feels less fragmented and more direct, as when Landau writes, “Will we ever run out of days? Who cares to count./ To say there are maybe thirty more Christmases,/ if we’re lucky, thirty more Julys.” These poems unfurl a resonant commentary on loneliness and mortality. (Apr.)