Wednesday, April 15, 2020

National Poetry Month with Award-winning Poet Deborah Landau

Deborah Landau
Jacqueline Mia Foster Photography
Deborah Landau is a professor and director of the NYU Creative Writing Program. She is the award-winning author of four books of poetry: Soft Targets, The Uses of the Body, The Last Usable Hour, and Orchidelirium. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and The New York Times, and she is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Believer Book Award.


Can you share your thoughts on the power and value of poetry during moments of collective crisis?

We often turn to poems at moments of great challenges and intensity, and the most powerful poems articulate what so many of us are feeling but cannot say. I remember how just after 9/11 The New Yorker published the poem “Try to Praise the Mutilated World” by Adam Zagajewski — an extraordinary poem that has come to mind for me a lot recently.

Deborah Landau: her story continues


Which of your poems do you think best expresses the moment we are experiencing as a society during the COVID-19 pandemic? Can you share a few lines?

My most recent book, Soft Targets, registers the body’s vulnerability at a time of global crisis — though I certainly hadn’t anticipated this pandemic. Still, the book’s sense of our shared fragility pervades this difficult spring, as does the painful simultaneity of Eros and Thanatos as people sicken while the trees bloom. All day I watch from my window in Brooklyn as ambulances blare past under the magnolia blossoms.

“Much trouble at hand, yet the lilies still” — is a line from my book that would seem to correspond.


You began writing Soft Targets while you were directing NYU writing programs in Paris. Can you talk about how experiences in France at that time shaped or inspired your work?

Yes-- I was in Paris (directing NYU’s low-residency MFA program there) during the string of terror attacks that happened in 2015 and 2016.  It was a frightening and chaotic time, and I began writing out of that state of fear and anxiety—a sense of our shared vulnerabilities.


What inspired your other collections?

My second book, The Last Usable Hour is in many ways a post-9/11 book (I lived downtown when the towers fell). My third book, The Uses of the Body, centers on the pleasures and complexities of marriage and domestic life, and of living in a female body as time passes.


You have been the director of the NYU Creative Writing Program since 2007. Can you talk about how the program has changed over time and what we can expect in the future?

Creative Writing at NYU is thriving, and it’s been my great pleasure to direct the program during this exciting time. At the center of our program are our stellar faculty; Zadie Smith, Jonathan Safran Foer, Anne Carson, Jeffrey Eugenides, Nathan Englander, Terrance Hayes, Joyce Carol Oates and many other luminaries have joined our faculty in recent years. We’ve launched vibrant summer intensives for undergraduate writers in New York, Paris, and Florence as well as a low-residency MFA program in Paris. Our robust public Reading Series features many of today’s most exciting poets and prose writers. And our program is distinguished of course by our incredible alumni, who are graduating and publishing their books and winning prizes at an amazing rate. As for the future, I’m hopeful we can continue to increase our graduate student fellowship support. That’s my top priority at this point.


What poets do you recommend our alumni read to celebrate National Poetry Month?

There are so many! In making recommendations I’d highlight our magnificent poetry alums, including Ocean Vuong, Robin Coste Lewis, Javier Zamora, Monica Sok, Aria Aber, John Murillo, Morgan Parker, Ada Limón, Jenny Xie, Emily Jungmin Yoon, Chase Berggrun, Ben Purkert, Nicole Sealey, among many others.


You can watch readings with Zadie Smith, Jonathan Safran Foer, Ocean Vuong, and other amazing authors on the NYU Creative Writing YouTube channel

Follow NYU Creative Writing on Twitter: @NYUCWP 

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