The prospect of this journey is daunting—not in the manner of a sprawling epic, but in the sustained focus and commitment that is required of the reader—though the extent of this commitment is not immediately apparent. For the book begins not in a funk, but rather an extended exclamation of deep appreciation for the world, its people, its objects, its games. Each stanza in “Telling You I Love You” functions as a sentence that begins with “I love” or a variant thereof. The capital-S Sentence becomes a means for Landman to cover his bases (pun intended, there are baseball references throughout the book), aiming for some sort of thoroughness or completeness as he acknowledges both the ups and downs of intense feeling.
Landman’s technique here is deceptively smooth. His short lines roll through their line breaks, building intense momentum as he emotes straight onto the page. The poem is not a consciousness stream; it’s closer to an improvised thank-you address at an awards ceremony in his head where he forgot his notes and simply attempted to express gratitude for everything he could think of. In Landman’s case that includes the song the wind makes, constellations, whiskey, baseball, the phrase “this evening,” getting “practically killed by desire.” It’s fitting that he even finds love in unexpected, seemingly unlovable places such as a suburban office park, which as it turns out has a particular charm at dusk.
“Telling You I Love You” ends with Landman noting how “life is weird/ lonely and connected,” so the tonal shift into “Confidence” delivers a jolt. The opening movement ends, the screen goes blank, and then the next movement begins. Unlike the opener, “Confidence” begins like a memoir, with Landman expressing regret while looking back on “the previous years of my life/ gone and mostly wasted.” It’s unclear who, but “someone is dying,” he writes, “everyone dies/ but this one person/ is overwhelming.” Telling is the suddenly rockier enjambment. Gone is the fastidious attention to the poem’s natural momentum; here his line breaks begin to defy the poem’s smooth flow, causing the reader to trip and stumble.
The book’s ironic title points towards the void Landman circles: confidence has dissipated, beyond just a crush of self-worth, but confidence that those things for which he showed such gratitude won’t simply disappear. “I can’t make myself/ care any more,” he writes, “you need to keep/ the body alive/ while the body is/ dying all the time.” Where in the first poem the quotidian is a source of small wonder, here it becomes a dim banality, a grim landscape where little happens other than some harsh introspection: “Here we are/ sunset in Boonville/ Indiana things just/ getting good/ in my imagination/ it’s pretty/ dire.” It’s an onslaught of downers peppered with novel insights—“buy yourself/ a world if you want/ to have shitloads/ of unfixable problems.” This is about as close to levity as Landman comes in this entire section. Driving through southern Indiana will do this to a person.
Though the enjambment in this poem has largely shifted from the effortless flow of the first, the anxious stumbles create strange, wonderful convolutions (a mode that continues in the third poem): “dreamy dreams I can’t tell you/ what I believe/ in incommunicable revelation.” But Landman’s primary structure remains intact, with each stanza functioning as a run-on sentence only somewhat prone to tangents. Also, punctuation is nearly absent; there are a few scattered, curiosity-inducing commas and one solitary period in the entire book. The latter arrives in the midst of a visit to a nursing home, ending the phrase “Calling into the earth.” It’s left unclear who exactly is in hospice, but the void of loss becomes more than an abstraction or existential dread. There is still, however, the looming sense that Landman misses a lover as well as this family member who has died: “I had a chance/ and missed it now/ I’m okay though when/ I want to love you/ otherwise I shut up in here/ more of the world/ and missed and/ and and missed.”
Amid the pervasive gloom, the unabiding sadness has almost become an end in itself. But as “Confidence” ends and “Breakwater” opens, Landman’s energy and drive return. There are still stumbles into self-doubt, but “there’s all this/ hope” and he has been spiritually, emotionally, physically recharged. The tone turns more conversational, Landman engaging the presence of the reader instead of ruminating into the ether. Glimpses of wonderment return and at those moments he becomes almost child-like. He has dragged you, reader, so far down with him that it doesn’t become clear how deep until halfway through this final section. And “when it is over/ you will look back on/ and wonder how you survived.”
It’s difficult to find a moment of explicit redemption in “Breakwater,” it’s more relief tinged with resignation. The reader will recognize an acknowledgement of the finality of death in the ongoingness of mourning, even if it is nearly impossible to fully accept—wanting “to wheel around/ and see you again.” The poem’s close is bittersweet instead of bleak, hopeful even as darkness lingers. There are many places where the work almost pushes the reader towards psychoanalyzing the poet—rather than simply grappling with the poems—but Landman manages to press that boundary while never crossing it. Patience is required, but rewarded; the poems open up at each confluence of rhythm and insight. Moreover, one feels each sting and scrape and instant of connection. There will be many moments in the core of book where it seems easy to put it down and walk away, but what happens when you don’t try to make it out the other side?