The Last Usable Hour
Deborah Landau
Copper Canyon Press, $15 (paper)

In her follow-up to Orchidelirium (2004), Deborah Landau explores a new relationship between the poet and the urban night. The hovering, often-unpunctuated language of these lyric sequences tests “what can be made of dusk, its many openings.” Night in the city provides the bare rooms and vacant spaces in which the speaker can truly encounter absence and the idea of absence. On some occasions, absence takes the form of an eroticized other (“& I have put my lips / on the glass of his face again”); at other times it is the self, alone. Each poem waits poised for an “immaculate middle-of-the-night quiet” or is confounded by the fact that “the trouble with silence / is none ever was.” Here a dormant “new york / city of hidden interiors” ceases to be object or muse and instead becomes part of the speaker’s psychic body. Landau’s intimate, lonely poems are profoundly engaged with the experience of the self in its starkest moments: when it is deprived, nocturnal, barely lingual. Since Orchidelirium, her line has become sparer, which allows her to build dynamic textures in phrases such as “the bulky king of trudge and stein” or a “sweater of dirt.” Landau keeps her passions and her sense of beauty intimately close, even as she denies them (“I know my life is meaning / less”). But in so doing, she creates a deeply erotic and resonant encounter between the lyric I and its solitude.