Confidence by Seth Landman
Brooklyn Arts Press, 2015; 127 pp
Reviewed by Ezekiel Black


Like Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, every theme important to Landman’s Confidence appears on its first few pages, such as love, isolation, and nature: “I love the feeling / I cut myself off / I let on I know the light.” After only the first three lines of Confidence, the reader learns that the book concerns unrequited love, be it romantic or platonic. No matter who or what the speaker loves, it does not or can not return the sentiment, sentencing the speaker to emotional exile. Confidence consists of three long poems, “Telling You I Love You,” “Confidence,” and “Breakwater,” and although the loved one changes from poem to poem, the theme remains constant. Indeed, because the speaker develops throughout these hardships, Landman could have billed his book as a novel in verse.

“Telling You I Love You,” like the other poems in Confidence, ends with an epiphany. After a long, breathless monologue, the speaker all of a sudden comprehends his (assuming the speaker is male) relationship with “you.” “Telling You I Love You” ends,

because life is weird
lonely and connected
billions of years
what are you missing
who do you love

The speaker has so much to say because his loved one has so little. For example, the speaker says, “I love the wind,” “I love fresh water / monsters,” “I love astronomy,” etc., but the reader does not know what “you” loves. While the speaker is emotionally available, claiming “I love saying love / not even meaning it / but yes meaning it also,” his loved one is emotionally unavailable, unable to even say love innocently. Furthermore, when the speaker does say, “I love you,” he feels like he must apologize for his idiosyncrasy:

I’m sorry for saying love
without eye contact
directing my love
at tree branches and clouds
as if to say I love you and
please change me

The loved one does not accept the speaker for who he is. In this unhealthy relationship, love flows in only one direction, but even then, it is dammed.

“Confidence” is the eponymous centerpiece of the book, but unlike the previous poem, the relationship is not romantic; instead, this monologue details the platonic love between a father and son. While the speaker sounded young and insistent in “Telling You I Love You,” he sounds mature and contemplative in “Confidence.” This maturation, though, does come at a price:

            a fastball
passed down
father to son
in the nursing home
late at night
in the hospital
when the lights
go down you fall
in love with walking
it’s confusing
having to learn
to die

As the speaker’s father dies, the speaker shares a catalogue of memories with the reader. Not only does this reminiscence raise the speaker’s spirits, but it also honors the father. Given the last lines of the poem, the reader knows the poem is a tribute:

because of everything you gave me
I know there is
all this stuff
I want to tell you
because I won’t

Although this relationship is better than the relationship in “Telling You I Love You,” they both share a key similarity: the loved one and the father do not reciprocate the speaker’s love. The reader can assume that the father would return the speaker’s adoration, but his death arrests him. Thus, the love is unrequited.

In “Breakwater,” the speaker seems to address both his loved one and his father. To his loved one, he says,

it’s not that I want to redo lying on the bed
I go wild
for dimness
when you fall
in love

The speaker even mentions an “epithalamiom” and his “wedding / speech.” However, “Breakwater” is not about the speaker’s love of a married person, but about his newfound maturity to move on, let go. This seems to be his father’s final gift to him. Like the previous poems, the first and last lines divulge this narrative. “Breakwater” begins, “And then so what” and ends, “all is forgiven / to wheel around / and see you again.” If the speaker ever sees the loved one again, the emotions he might feel are forgiven. They are trivial compared to life’s real hardship. That is, they pale in comparison to his emotions for his father. The ultimate stanza opens, “Come back / life knows you,” and given that these lines appear with “all is forgiven / to wheel around / and see you again,” the reader understands the duality of “Breakwater,” that the speaker is pushing the loved one away and pulling his father in. Proper action is often difficult, but the speaker’s growth allows him to act properly.

With its consistent character development, Landman could have billed Confidence as a verse novel, but if my interpretation is biased, where I only quote lines that support my narrative, there is much more to say about this book. For example, from its cover, to its epigraph, to a poem title, water permeates the entire work. Even the poems’ structure reflects this theme. With little capitalization and no punctuation, lines flow in and out of each other. Notice how these lines can be read as the end of one sentence or the start of another:

I have to keep being this person
you might like
are all the good

Such fluidity saturates Confidence, and when combined with other ingenious techniques and images, such as “moody liquid,” “coughing engine,” and “iron snow,” one comprehends the true quality of the book. In addition to quality, there is depth. If the reader were a Lacanian, for example, he or she would appreciate Landman’s equation of water and death, hence the “oceanic feeling” of the undifferentiated Real.