DEBORAH LANDAU: THE HEART OF A POET

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Deborah Landau has done the impossible: she’s driven the attention of both traditional literary critics and mainstream media to poetry, to her poetry. Her latest publication “The Uses of the Body” was named one of 12 Favorite Poetry Books of 2015 by The New Yorker and acclaimed by Vogue and Buzzfeed. Her poetry is a reflection of the different stages she’s been through and experienced. Love, marriage, childbirth… Flawless poetry where the writter opens her soul up:

I’ve loved poetry since I was very young. My mother gave me Anne Sexton’s LOVE POEMS when I turned thirteen, and from then on out I was hooked. It was a strange gift to give a young girl (it’s a very intense book!) but she must have had a sense that it would touch me.

The style of your poetry is very direct; is it a reflection of your personality or are you a rather introvert person who finds an outlet to your emotions in literature?

I think it’s a reflection of my personality that I try to write poems that will be accessible and engaging and energetic enough to reach readers.

The feelings and vulnerability of women are reoccurring topics; do you believe that education can help strengthen the character of girls?

Certainly education is very important.

Poetry is something very deep that can make one feel vulnerable or exposed; is there any of your published works that you hesitated to make public or personal poems that you wouldn’t publish?

I get asked that question a lot. The truth is, it’s not much of an issue for me….Though my poems may seem very personal—and they do come out of my own life experiences to a large extent — my hope is that by the time I publish a poem the material is distilled and transformed. A poem is art, not life – and in the end, the quality of the language in a piece of writing is most important to me. My hope is that through vibrant, lively, and particular language a poem will reach readers who will recognize their own experiences in it.

Did any particular woman in your life spark your inspiration to write about women, or does it all come straight from your experiences?

I have read and loved the work of so many women poets—Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath, Lucile Clifton, Adrienne Rich—and also admire many contemporary female poets writing today. All of these women have taught (and continue to teach) me by example.

Would you say that your studies in such outstanding universities influenced your work?

The many years I spent reading in graduate school while working toward my PhD were a luxury, and all of that reading has been so important to me as I write my own poems.

One doesn’t meet poets every day; do you think that they’re hidden within themselves or that there aren’t many?

Well, there are so many poets in New York, and in Brooklyn in particular, that I do meet poets every day. There’s a lively community here and it’s one of the reasons I love to live in New York. It seems a particularly rich and exciting time for poetry – so many young poets are writing vital and necessary and transformative work.

You highlight the strength of women but you’ve come so far yourself; has it been hard in a field that is still considered by many “a man’s world” where many women still use only their initials?

There are so many female poets flourishing now – I haven’t felt limited in any way by my gender.

Can you see yourself writing novels in the future?

I wish! I love to read novels but don’t seem to have a narrative gift myself. I’m more comfortable writing poems – you can be elliptical and suggestive in poems, and sound is as important as sense.

How was becoming a creative writing teacher at NYU? What’s the most rewarding part of it?

I love working with our students at NYU. They are so talented and smart, and it’s been thrilling watching so many of them begin to publish their own poems, win prizes, establish themselves as poets in the world.

What do you think of poetry forums where everyone recites their work? Do you encourage your students to take part in them?

We produce a vibrant reading series at NYU, and there are poetry readings on every night of the week in New York City. It’s great to go out and listen and learn and feel part of the wider community.

Who is your biggest inspiration?

My mother died young, but the example of her life continues to inspire me. She showed me that it’s possible to have both love and work – and to truly love one’s work. I’m grateful to her for that everyday.

I’ve always wanted to write a poem that would have the intense and immediate effect of a song—that would move people as powerfully as music does at that fundamental, visceral, physical level—but that’s hard to do in poetry. Lana Del Rey? I listened to her music over and over again while writing THE USES OF THE BODY. I admire the way her music establishes a nostalgic mood and tone so effortlessly, and wish I could find a way to do that in poems.

What accomplishment are you the proudest of?

My third book, The Uses of the Body, came out last year and seemed to reach a wide audience (for poetry). It was featured in typical literary places, like The New Yorker and NPR, but also in more mainstream places—Vogue, BuzzFeed, and O, The Oprah Magazine. It meant a lot to me that even people who don’t typically read poetry were receptive to that book.

For you, a life without poetry would be…?

Lonely and boring!

My advice for young poets is read as much as you can, seek out like-minded friends with whom to share your work, establish
a daily practice, keep writing.

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