Leigh Stein is an inspired writer whose book of poems, Dispatch from the Future, is very talkative—there is a lot going on over its 4 part, 130 page terrain: dozens of you’s and I’s; pages recounting books, stories, movies, plays, spinning worlds of wagon trains, dry desert wanderings, diary entries; telling her/telling him/telling you/telling me/telling us what they’re surviving, how lonely they are, how much stuff they know. What adventures.
Stein’s first book was fiction, and it makes total sense. She is so good at creating contained and satisfying narrative worlds, at telling stories which seem more-than-metaphorical. But I read poetry very slowly. It sometimes takes me hours to unpack a single poem, so I was a little frustrated when it felt to me that at a certain point, a completely new set of characters was introduced into a completely new setting with its own constellation of reference points that didn’t always land. It reminded me of a collection of short short stories, which can be fatiguing to traverse because the landscape is always changing.
I noticed a lot of plot summary happening, which I started to anticipate not always favorably: “I found this story I heard once…” “in the play…” “in the ancient legend…” “an obscure Ethiopian documentary… about a young girl [who]…” “My favorite book is the one where…” “I saw the movie about…” Mostly because if I if I wanted to be reading or watching something else, that’s what I’d be doing. I was very stubborn about this. I was being very skeptical. I started to think that maybe the book could use a trimming. Maybe one or more of its parts could be chopped, started to see its thickness (it is pretty long for a book of poetry) and wondered how much more I could possibly hold in my mind. I wondered why.
But in its accumulation, the chatter started doing things—undulating—though I wasn’t sure to what effect. Yet I felt compelled to continue. There were unmistakable and inflating and constant moments of wit and insight. Then finally I came to the poem “I’ve Written All Over This in Hopes You Can Read It,” which occurs almost at the end, which was a watershed moment for me with the book. I felt an intention buzzing. I started to see the voices all on top of each other like they were layers and layers of graffiti but each saying something. I understood the necessity of having them. “White noise,” she writes in the next poem, “sounds like sun.” Which I read a few ways.
One was like someone whispering a secret in a crowded bar. How cacophony can be a comfortable space for vulnerability, which the book is full of. However I don’t expect a poem to contextualize its heart. I sort of expect it to be desperate and intense. So I think her poetry is very considerate and measured, but still instinctive.
I also started to think about the sheer act of staying engaged in our blaring world, the nature of motivation in unknowing, and (via many of Stein’s subjects) what compels people to fight, and to stay alive, because when you think about it— surviving can be so incredibly lonely. Somehow you need to feel inspired, to hear the future piping in. Which means: you need to be listening.
“Yes/there are people here, but only if you/want there to be people/here”